Downplaying or remaining silent about climate change was and is a blunder for progressives

Some of the best pollsters have known for years that progressives can and should talk about climate change  (see Mark Mellman on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” [5/09]).  Mellman calls the polling that suggests one shouldn’t talk about global warming, a “politically na¯ve, methodologically flawed and factually inaccurate.”

Sure, if you talk about any subject in a clumsy fashion you will turn people off “” just look at how Obama and major progressive politicians managed to turn a winning political issue, health care reform, into an unpopular one! [see “Can Obama deliver health and energy security with a half (assed) message?“]

Much of the climate language that gets tested is truly lame.  But the fact that poor messaging fails is not an argument for not doing messaging on the subject at all!

Science-based (dire) warnings are an essential part of good climate messaging — along with a clear explanation of the myriad clean energy solutions available today and the multiple benefits those solutions that deliver,  including  millions of jobs,  energy security, competitiveness, and especially clean air and improved public health.  Recent research supports that view (even though many in the media misreported the story).

Ironically, many people think the failure of the climate bill proves that talking about climate change doesn’t work — because they don’t realize that the messaging campaign built around the climate bill was based on not talking about climate change! Those still confused on that matter should read “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?

Nearly $200 million was spent by enviornmental, progressive, and business groups in 2009 and 2010 to sell a climate bill.  The vast majority (but not all) of that messaging was built around ignoring the climate message and instead talking about clean energy jobs, energy security, and the threat from China.  Worse, the progressive political leadership (again with exceptions, such as Sen. John Kerry) also generally either refused to talk about climate change or they seriously downplayed the subject.  That includes, most importantly, President Obama and the entire White House communications team [see “The unbearable lameness of being (Rahm and Axelrod)“].

Even worse, as I’ve reported before, multiple sources confirm that the WH comms team shut down an effort by the office of the president’s science adviser,  John Hodren, to mount a strong defense of climate science after the Climategate emails were hacked in late 2009.  So not only was the WH —  the preeminent bully pulpit in American politics — failing to deliver a clear, positive message on climate science, they weren’t even responding to a strong, negative message by the disinformers.  That’s a lose-lose strategy.  As they say, you can’t beat a horse with no horse.  Is it any wonder that they had trouble mustering moderate Senate Democrats to support a climate bill last or to defend EPA’s  ability to regulate greenhouse gases this year?

As Ezra Klein wrote last June after Obama’s failed post-BP-disaster speech:

To expand a bit on a point I made on Rachel Maddow’s show, I’m just not sure how you do a response to climate change if you can’t really say the words “climate change.” And that’s where we are right now: The actual problem we’re trying to solve is politically, if not scientifically, controversial. And so politicians, rather than continuing to try to convince the American people that we need to do something about it, have started talking about more popular policies that are related to solving climate change. You see this in Lindsey Graham’s effort to argue for carbon-pricing from a place of purported climate-change skepticism. You see it in pollster Joel Benenson’s memo that tries to persuade legislators to vote for a climate bill without ever using those words. And you saw it in Barack Obama’s speech last night, which was all about clean energy and grand challenges.

I have spent as much time as anybody reading all of the polling and messaging memos, and talking to leading experts in communications.  This is certainly a complicated subject and nobody has figured out the best winning message —  probably because there is no one-size-fits-all message,  particularly in the face of  the most well-funded and sophisticated disinformation campaign in human history. That disinformation campaign complicates all messaging — and all message testing — since it is so pervasive and well-designed.

Because  of the importance of this topic and its complexity, and because I continue to hear otherwise highly informed people get this so wrong — including the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger — I will be doing more posts on it.

I was motivated to write this post because of a terrific HuffPost piece by Brendan Smith, co-founder, Labor Network for Sustainability, which deserves to be read in full:

Should We Remain Silent About Climate Change?

[Drafted with Jeremy Brecher]

To talk of climate change or not to talk of climate change — that is the question.

For the last several years many of the biggest players in the climate movement have argued that to save the planet we need to purge the words “global warming” and “climate change” from our talking points and educational materials. Poll-oriented groups like the Breakthrough Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund argue that public opinion surveys prove Americans care most about jobs and lack the capacity to act on some distant threat.

They maintain that instead of being prophets of doom, climate protection advocates should gather around a “good news” agenda that limits our messaging to green jobs, national pride, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. “Forget about climate change” Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, explained to a gathering of environmentalists last year. Just ask people “Do you love America?”

Eerily, the “good news” strategy is heavily influenced by the Republican pollster and messaging maven Frank Luntz — infamous for coining phrases like “death tax.” In 2009 the Environmental Defense Fund teamed up with Luntz ‘s firm The Word Doctors to figure out how to help marshal public support for a climate bill. Luntz’s advice? “The least important component of climate change is climate change… You’re fighting the wrong battle. What they want is an end to dependence on foreign oil.”

This is the same Frank Luntz who has long been advising the Republican party on how to grind climate policy to a halt. In 2002 he authored an influential memo advising Republicans to greenwash their public image while sowing public confusion about climate change. Republicans should “continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate” because otherwise, he warned, “[s]hould the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.”

Both political parties took Luntz’s advice. Democrats and their allies began calling their climate bill the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.” They stopped highlighting the economic and environmental implications of failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions. To hear them speak there was no climate crisis, only promises of green jobs and energy independence. Meanwhile, Republicans and their forces of climate denial talked about climate change all the time. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck obsessively ridiculed Al Gore during snow storms and profiled “experts” who denied the existence of climate change.

So what was the effect of climate activists’ decision to stop talking about climate change? The enemies of the planet won. Climate legislation is dead. The US has not cut emissions, created millions of new climate-protecting green jobs, or reduced dependence on foreign oil. Not talking about climate change has failed to reap even modest wins for the climate movement — let alone save the planet.

And possibly the most damning of all: Public concern about climate has plummeted in direct correlation with the “stop talking about climate change” strategy. In 1998, before Al Gore tirelessly began traveling the country with his doom and gloom slideshow, only 50% if the country considered climate change a major worry. By 2008, a year after Gore and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize, two-thirds of Americans said they “worry a great deal or fair amount about climate change.” In 2009 Frank Luntz instructed environmentalists to stop talking about climate change, and by March 2011, the number of people concerned about the climate had dropped back down to 51%.

I think Luntz’s role is a tad overstated here.  Many other progressive messaging groups were selling this before Luntz (see Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ “” and that’s a good thing).  Indeed, the origins of the myth that you can’t talk about climate change go back to the late 1990s, but that will have to be the subject of another post.

Most progressives never trusted Luntz (and his polling actually supported the view that the public already accepted global warming, which was not the view of some others).  Rest assured Axelrod and his ilk didn’t screw up their messaging because of Luntz.

Smith continues:

It is time to stop trying to save the planet by silence about what threatens it. The climate movement needs to start telling the inconvenient truth again. Richard Wiles, co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, writing recently about his own struggle with climate denial, observed that “what’s worse” than climate denial: “the other lie I’ve discovered in the process. It’s the lie that I’m telling. It’s the lie that we all tell to our children and each other when we don’t talk about climate disruption. It’s the lie of us all pretending that everything will be OK.”

Beyond an ethical aversion to lying, there are hard-nosed political reasons why the forces of climate protection need to keep ringing the climate alarm bell.

  • Whether or not they currently believe in climate change, people are going to experience the climate catastrophe. Disasters are coming — indeed they are already here — and that is going to drive the agenda. It is up to us to explain why the floods, hurricanes, droughts, and other catastrophes are happening and to lay out what to do.
  • Even though people may initially curse the messenger and trigger despair, history shows that bad news can spur action and social change. It was the danger of nuclear fallout in America’s children’s milk that spurred the movement that led to a ban on nuclear testing and ultimately to the reduction of strategic arsenals by 80 percent. It was Rachel Carson’s revelation in Silent Spring that DDT was poisoning the songbirds that led the public to understand the ecological interaction of nature and therefore support environmental protection legislation.
  • Success goes to those who change the polls, not those who follow them. Al Gore, climate scientists, and millions of climate activists reshaped public opinion on climate. A majority of Americans are still seriously concerned about climate. They — and others — need to know why they’re right. Dreadful events — interpreted truthfully — are unlikely to be ignored forever. But people will have little opportunity to connect the dots between devastating floods, catastrophic storms, and lethal heat waves on the one hand and the greenhouse gasses that cause them on the other unless they are persistently and consistently presented with the facts.
  • The right wing, backed by the fossil fuel industry, have spent millions of dollars promoting this story: The climate crisis is an imaginary threat invented by liberals to justify government power over individuals and companies, destroying both liberty and jobs in the process. To remain silent about the reality of the climate change threat is to maximize the credibility and effectiveness of this argument. Conversely, spelling out the facts of climate change is the way to expose the climate denialist argument for the hoax it is.
  • As the climate crisis deepens, many people are likely to pass directly from denial to despair. Fear can make people hopeless and immobilized. If they don’t hear realistic explanations of what the climate crisis is all about, combined with rational proposals for what to do about it, they are made vulnerable to fantasy-based explanations and irrational solutions. Climate change is indeed scary, but it is a threat that affects all of us, so it provides an opportunity to cooperate in new ways at every level from the local to the global.
  • The right wing is talking about climate change all the time. They have the initiative in framing the debate. And people will make ignorant decisions in the face of a one-sided debate. Without forceful articulation of the truth, the proportion of the public who grasp the seriousness of climate change could fall even further.

The real “good news” is that there are climate activist groups like and the 1Sky Campaign that never bought into the Frank Luntz’s school of climate politics. They kept sounding the alarm about the climate crisis. These are the folks who organized a global day of action with 5,200 rallies from Mt. Everest to the Great Barrier Reef in what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action on the planet.”

Of course we should keep talking about green jobs and reduced dependence on foreign oil — in fact we need to be presenting a robust vision for how to build a more just and sustainable future. And of course we need to avoid scaring people into despair. But that doesn’t require us to be silent in the face of an existential threat. It is as true as ever that silence equals consent.

— Brendan Smith

I strongly  agree with virtually every one of those bullet points.  Again, the last bullet is crucial. If those who understand the science don’t talk about it clearly and repeatedly, then the  public understanding of the issue will be dominated by the anti-science side, which shouts their message loudly and repeatedly.

I’ll end with an update of something I wrote two years ago about the counterproductive and ultimately self-destructive notion progressives and environmentalists shouldn’t talk about global warming:

We are engaged in a multi-year messaging struggle here.  The planet is going to get hotter and hotter, the weather is going to get more extreme.  One of the reasons to be clear and blunt in your messaging about this is that even if you don’t persuade people today, the overall message will grow in credibility as reality unfolds as we have warned.

To shy away from telling people the truth because they don’t want to hear it or they think it’s liberal claptrap is just incredibly un-strategic. Some groups don’t want people to talk about “global warming.”  And “” even worse “” they don’t want people to talk about extreme weather, which, as I have previously argued, is in fact the same thing that the climate disinformers want “” see “Why do the disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?

You must tell people what is coming, not just because it is strategic messaging, but also I believe because we have a moral responsibility.

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61 Responses to Downplaying or remaining silent about climate change was and is a blunder for progressives

  1. Craig says:

    The modern conservative movement has become increasingly skilled at peddling misinformation the past 30 years. To name a few: tax cuts for the wealthy benefit society as a whole, environmental regulations always cripple the economy, universal healthcare will kill your grandmother.

    Global warming is different. Floods, droughts, mega storms, vanishing species, coral die-offs, refugees, and food insecurity cannot be covered up by propaganda.

    And the political party that takes a strong stand on the need to reduce climate pollution now will be rewarded by the public in the future. After all, the laws of physics are on their side. Its not often that you get a chance to fight alongside such a powerful ally.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    Weather instability is the present component of the dire message about Climate Change; weather instability is the component that the US is most ready to see. We have personal evidence of weather instability; people can agree that it is a near and present danger.

    In my opinion, the What-We-Can-Do message about Climate Change must begin with the priority to respond to Weather Instability, as well as expanding public foresight about the other components of what we can do.

    Back to the dire component, weather/climate shifts have clear public consequences in other countries, such as spread of malaria to the warmer highlands of east Africa. Similar persistently dangerous conditions have yet to become clearly identified in the lower 48 in the US. Factual tracking of climate change with public health and economic effects is very important. Emotionally, persistently dangerous conditions, like malaria spread, are more convincing than what looks like a single-shot mega-event like a cat-5 hurricane.

    The What-We-Can-Do about Weather Instability brings along with it the priorities of improved food reserves, flexible communications and transportation, and emergency management. Connecting also to longer-term objectives, response to Weather Instability also brings the necessity of developing a more flexible energy infrastructure.

    Hope this kicks off the conversation.

  3. Wit's End says:

    “Science-based (dire) warnings are an essential part of good climate messaging — along with a clear explanation of the myriad clean energy solutions available today and the multiple benefits those solutions that deliver, including millions of jobs, energy security, competitiveness, and especially clean air and improved public health.”

    I agree, and the emphasis should be on “clean air and improved public health” because that is what is going to motivate people to make the drastic changes that must be made.

    Make the link between air pollution and cancer, emphysema, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and autism. These are all huge epidemics – does anyone NOT have someone in their circle with at least one of those conditions?

    Make the link between air pollution and reduced crop yields and quality, rising food prices, and political and social unrest.

    And please make the link between climate change and floods, hurricanes, heat waves and droughts.

    Then, if only Obama would wait for more research like this from the Lawrence LIvermore National Laboratory:

    to determine the effects of biofuel emissions before racing to produce more ethanol!

    “They found that while biofuel combustion produces many of the same chemicals released during fossil fuel burning, it also generates a complicated mixture of additional chemicals that are potentially harmful to humans and the environment.”

  4. with the doves says:

    That’s amazing – that EDF teamed up with Frank Luntz to craft a “winning message.” I had no idea. Thank you for pointing this out. How pathetic is that? Why not just tell people the truth? Trying to fool people into supporting the right policy is a loser’s game.

  5. Tom Street says:

    A good example of not talking about global warming or climate change is the New York Times. Discussion of this issue usually appears in the Science section. Unlike the Guardian which has sections specifically devoted to the Environment and subsets thereof like climate change. I guess the NYT still thinks that devoting a section to the most urgent problem of the millennium is controversial.

    At the end of the day,however, we live in Kochistan and Foxistan and I am not sure that a change in message can break through the conservative dominance of the public mind space. How does one break through this when the public’s reality is shaped by liars?

    It might help, of course, is Obama actually demonstrated that he cared about the problem by actually directly addressing it. To talk about energy and not mention global warming is a crime.

    But really. Does he care in the sense of feeling some passion about it?Do people remember the campaign where he said he was “working” on changing the light bulbs in his house while doing nothing about his choice of automobiles? To me, that was the tell and he has lived down to my expectations on this issue ever since. Does he not address whatever he feels will gain him popularity for the moment?

    And where is the major speech slapping down the Republicans who are trying to kill the EPA’s authority to do anything about greenhouse gases? Is he afraid of offending the independents?

  6. Pat says:

    Survival politics takes on daunting proportions given the Japan nuclear melt down that makes most debates useless.

    Whether a change in leadership is warranted may be futile under the premise of human survival, and considering it makes all profits useless, the question of whether humans need new leadership is the gorilla in the room. If change for change sake brings only bad changes, can it be worthwhile change?

    When you are being tortured but don’t know it, are you still being tortured? It’s not whether the glass is half full or half empty in human optimism, it’s whether there is a glass, and whether there is anything non-poisonous to put in it.

  7. swv says:

    Agreed that if we omit the truth about the horrifying consequences of not doing anything or acting too late we lose. The “liberal science” meme only has so much power and only amongst the extremists. No message in going to reach extremists, even the final message of their own destruction. That’s a fact anyone who reads history is well aware of.

    We all agree that both types of messages simultaneously are important even if they are coming from different sources.

    The climate change hawk is a many headed beast and that’s could be to our advantage. If some heads are emphasizing the positive parts of an integrated renewable energy policy- while not failing to mention the negative consequences of inaction, while at the same time others are emphasizing the horrific future that awaits us if we wait, while not painting a picture of complete hopelessness, then that’s the mixed messaging we’re looking for.

    Lovelock’s approach is not wrong in my opinion. Neither is Schwarzenegger’s. Each of them are presenting within the context of their own careers and lives and doing what makes sense for that context. Then there’s the consideration of disposition. Some people are simply geniuses at hopeful messaging while others have a talent for graphic depictions of possible futures.

    Your earlier criticism of Matthew Feinberg’s experimental design is worth commenting on. For the ANOVA comparison he did, in fact he did have enough subjects to reach the required power for an alpha of .05 (at first I thought perhaps he hadn’t- an unlikely error for any researcher to make).

    Also the cognitive priming independent variable is well established science.

    However the A/B messaging of where B might be fairly characterized as “complete and utter hopelessness that anything can be done in time” makes the study not a comparison between “positive” messaging and “negative” messaging but rather what dependent variable does when you trigger off learned helplessness circuits in your subjects.

    Below is the abstract of the study, which is located here:

    Though scientific evidence for the existence of global warming continues to mount, in the U.S. and other countries belief in global warming has stagnated or even decreased in recent years.

    One possible explanation for this pattern is that information about the
    potentially dire consequences of global warming threatens deeply held beliefs that the world is just, orderly, and stable. Individuals overcome this threat by denying or discounting the existence of global warming, ultimately resulting in decreased willingness to counteract climate change.

    Two experiments provide support for this explanation of the dynamics of belief in global warming, suggesting that less dire messaging could be more effective for promoting public understanding of climate change research

    It’s pretty clear that he thinks his experiment supports the conclusion as transmitted by reporters. I agree the experiment needs refining.

    But the idea that the expectation of a fair world can collide with messaging is one I think bears investigating.

    Consider that religion is nothing if not the promise of final, cosmic fairness. Conservatives are the vast majority of deniers, and they are also highly religious.

    I don’t need to recite the very many ways changing historical events are routinely outfitted, post-hoc, to fit the “cosmic justice” narrative of religion. AIDS, Katrina and 9-11 were all used as proof of God’s wrath against a fallen nation. Karma, a central tenant of Hinduism, has been used by some as a global, post-hoc fairness-clearinghouse for any type of inequality.

    What this implies but doesn’t prove is that if conservatives reject messages that imply cosmic unfairness, then the dire consequences type messaging should include a good amount of guilt, finger pointing and even threats of retribution, while simultaneously presenting a way to salvation through action.

    Another rhetorical device is to reference the unfairness of assuming unearned authority on the topic of climate change. Of course, unearned authority is the only kind right wing media has available to it, but the cognitive dissonance at the heart of this is – these people want to be given, just handed, what other people had to earn.

    If we emphasize the amount of time – 4 years hard undergrad, 5 years to a PhD followed by years as a post-doc, all at low pay- and sometimes joyless effort actual authorities have committed to becoming authorities and contrast with the expectation on the part of non-experts that they should just be handed such authority, it seems that this runs counter to the fairness expectation and also the notion that people should work and earn what for what they get- an no one should take what they’ve earned away from them and give it to someone who hasn’t earned it.

    This messaging conversation is a good one to have and even better if it sparks an interest on the part of researchers. Science broadly considered is after all our greatest and still most under-utilized weapon in this war.

    What this implies

  8. swv says:

    ah, have to say sorry for zero time spent proofreading the above message.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    People assume that the Democrat leadership has been reading polls, which put global warming concerns somewhere around #18 in order of importance. Yes, the polls are poorly designed, but the real reason goes beyond that.

    Democrats have become intimidated by a group of greed crazed zealouts masquerading as libertarians or free marketeers. Hiring Frank Lunz shows that Obama is not alone in surrendering before the first shot is fired. Most Democratic Senators and Governors cannot even spell “leadership”. As for their pollsters and political hacks, they are the ones who come up with focus group tested phrases designed to appeal to people’s longings and habits. Most Americans smell a rat, and crave authenticity- something they get more from the Right, from Ron Paul, for example.

    As for the New York Times, the mainstream media is just following instructions from advertisers. Emailing their public editor and wringing our hands over it won’t change anything. We desperately need brand new newspapers and television networks that serve the people. They will listen, and buy the products advertised there.

  10. Roddy Campbell says:

    On the subject of the climate bill – we already have a Climate Act in the UK, by which I deduce our politicians and electorate were more supportive of action on climate change than yours, ditto Europe.

    The most common theme I hear when I ask people about it is that the one thing they know is that most future emissions, the ones that we need to control because the past ones are done, will come from Chindia etc. They know that the effect that the UK, or even the EU, can realistically have on warming is pretty minimal. Therefore the support for more expenditure on renewables etc is fairly lukewarm, because they instinctively sympathise with Chindia wanting growth and Africa just wanting electricity.

    Therefore the support for more climate bills and action will remain lukewarm until there’s some international consensus/action.

  11. Roddy Campbell says:

    The energy advisor to our Minister for Climate Change (yes, we have one) is David MacKay, he wrote an excellent book called ‘Sustainable Energy – without the hot air’ – I recommend it to anyone.

    It’s available free on his web-site –

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    Roddy Campbell,

    US inaction gives countries like China and Australia cover to continue to burn coal. If we developed a strong climate policy, backed by trade sticks as well as carrots, others would follow, and would thank us for it.

    Your country has a better excuse here, but the best thing you could do would be to insist that your government put pressure on the US.

  13. Matt Dernoga says:

    Agreed! I realize there were a variety of other factors in the 2006-2009 period where climate awareness grew (along with the grassroots capacity of the climate movement), but at the heart of it was messaging by environmentalists, environmental organizations, and progressive politicians that talked about the science and the consequences of not acting. I think we need to get back to that point, and it has to start with a focus from environmental organizations.

  14. swv says:

    One more thought. It’s worth considering that different messages are intended for different recipients and that for any given message, the apparent target of the message, the recipient, may not be the real target, who may instead be a passive reader of the exchange between the sender and the recipient.

    Lovelock’s warnings of civil war are received by many people, but targeted specifically for policy makers and the national security establishment who presumably have more power to take action than the putative recipients, IMO.

    They’re a warning message wrapped in a historical prediction. Is that a bad tactic? I don’t know. If such an idea goes viral and is picked up by ordinary people and ordinary people start preparing for civil war or something like climate secessionists surface or such like, you can bet that, at least, that “message” will be processed at the highest levels.

    In the absence of certain knowledge, that is while we lack certain knowledge, what is the downside to trying everything? What bad thing do we incur by letting a million flowers bloom? It’s a question, not a statement.

    In my personal opinion, we have to use both the carrot and the stick. The full scale horror and even threat of assignment of culpability for failure to act has to be presented along with a more appealing alternative that allows us to escape any of that.

    It would be great if we were all on the same page with the messaging but that’s not likely to happen for a variety of powerful reasons.

  15. Peter M says:

    Mike Roddy says everything.

    Till the economic climate is exposed for what it is- in perhaps the next 10-15 years, along with climate change horrors, the status will remain.

    Of course the longer things remain the same, the deeper the fall will be.

  16. Roddy Campbell says:

    Mike Roddy #9

    I was reading Kerry Emanuel’s testimony of last week with interest. He wrote that the three key aspects are:

    “1. It is global…. therefore politically very difficult to regulate such emissions.

    2. The risks, while potentially large, are still very uncertain, and in my view, the level of uncertainty is not likely to drop anytime soon.

    3. While the costs of confronting these risks will fall largely to our generation, the primary beneficiaries of our actions will be our children and grandchildren, not us.”

    Point 3 is the interesting one. Chindia (and Africa) have a different view imho of costs now versus benefits to grand-children. My point was that ‘Western’ voters are aware of this, hence rationally reluctant to cost themselves to no benefit to anyone unless Chindiafrica follow.

    (Australia is a red herring – it produces the same % of its electricity from coal as China, and has 1/70th of the population.)

    I’m not sure that the US (and EU) have the balls to cost themselves twice, first with their own policy, then with trade carrots and sticks.

    But my point really was on the subject of the blog – that the way forward is to return to stressing catastrophe over/alongside the oblique approach of green this and energy security that – Joe’s ‘dire warnings’.

    I don’t agree, I think the public are suspicious of unilateral policy effectiveness on AGW, with reason. I think they are also alert to Emanuel’s point 2.

    It’s behind a partial firewall, but Prospect Magazine has a good article by Dieter Helm in the current issue, Professor of Energy at Oxford, who also advises various European governments on policy reponse.

  17. This is a smart essay. And empirically we’ve never found that even a very wonky discussion (350 ppm co2) is a barrier to organizing. I was worried it would be–but people seem intuitively to understand it, the way we understand our cholesterol can be too high even if we haven’t got an entirely full understanding of the lipid system.

  18. Thanks Joe just what I needed – been getting a lot of heat for ‘scaring the horses’ with my doom ‘n gloom articles. And now that I’m a Green Party candidate in the Canadian federal election I have been debating my messaging. Experts advise me to stay positive: “strong communities, smart economy, true democracy” as central message. I want to focus on telling the truth about the crisis we’re facing, something I’ve been documenting as a journalist for many years.

    Now I’ve decided.

  19. swv says:

    Think historically. It’s not the first time we’ve been up against institutionalized resistance. In the history of civil right’s era, all the halcyon focus is now on MKL. The reality was, MLK was the “nice” face of change and Bobby Seal and the Blank Panthers were the “not nice” face of change. Carrot and stick. MLK appealed to people’s minds and Bobby Seal appealed to their need to avoid something terrifying. This is how it works.

    I agree with Mike Roddy above that what’s needed and what people crave is certainty and leadership. The projection of moral certainty and fearless leadership is exactly what is lacking in the current administration. Perhaps he’s saving that for his second term, hoping for a “really” hot summer this year- I’m quite sure I have no idea.

    It may be that Obama is simply too much of a piece-meal, compromising, deal-making realist for this point in history. How you govern is dependent on what the times require. Does the President even know what time it is? So far it’s not clear he does.

    Deniers may not like the in-your-face, here’s reality, “stick” part of the carrot stick messaging. All the more important to give it to them. It gets processed and it finds its target whether they want it to or not.

    Sometimes people who are undecided split the difference on any issue and figure the truth is between the extremes. It’s not a great heuristic but it’s one many people employ reflexively. All the more reason to present the extreme case, so as to slide the middle towards big action.

    Certainly the other side is not afraid of presenting (baseless) extreme projections of economic collapse and such like if action is taken.

    That our “extreme” also has the virtue of being scientifically accurate is only the more reason to push it in their faces.

  20. I agree whole-heartedly with every word you wrote, Joe.

    People need to know and try to understand the truth.

    If they don’t know what is really going on, how the heck can they try to change it?

  21. Jeff Huggins says:

    Utterly Depressing

    I’m sorry, but the fact that this is even an issue is utterly depressing. (I’m glad Joe is covering it, but the existence of the question is utterly depressing.)

    We don’t have to pretend or wonder that global warming is real or that scientists say so: It IS and they DO. We don’t have to shyly wonder about whether it’s a moral issue and whether the need to avert/mitigate climate change is a moral one: It IS. And it is absolutely muzzling and demoralizing and demotivating to humans who understand these things to tell them or suggest to them to “shut up” or “change the issue” or “dress up the issue in clothes so it won’t be recognized.” And indeed, the view is a condescending and demeaning one that holds that most people can’t take the truth and must be “fooled” or enticed into actions. “That stupid public can’t take it, so let’s not talk about it to the degree that we should.” Whose view is that?? Let that person identify himself or herself, and he/she can be sure that I’ll stop voting for him, stop supporting his organization, and stop listening to him.

    This whole thing is deeply problematic and depressing. Where are we going to “get” — not far!! — if half or more of the people concerned about climate change think that we shouldn’t call it by name, repeatedly?

    How can you genuinely face and address an issue that you won’t even name, talk about, and take seriously? And let’s not fool ourselves: There are ways to address (or at least begin to address) the “energy security” issue that still don’t help address climate change or that indeed make it worse. There are ways to “beat China” (whatever that means to various people) that don’t do much to address climate change. I’m starting to think that we have far too many lawyers in the government and in politics, and far too many ineffective advisors advising them, and also far too many people in the media writing about the implications of polls who have no real experience with market research and human psychology.

    Can you imagine trying to abolish slavery without talking about slavery and its immorality and other related problems directly? Can you imagine the women’s rights movement — including the movement to give women their right to vote — making progress without talking about the problem (in both practical and moral terms; and indeed practicality and morality are highly interrelated)?



  22. Colorado Bob says:

    This translation is a little rough, but the “” still there :

    The deputy chief negotiator reassured that the devastative floods and landslides which had battered the region since March 23 had been caused by the climate crisis.

    “You know that in southern of Thailand right now, about one million people got affected from this natural disaster. I expect that almost 500,000 households got impacted. We can assume that this impact comes from climate change affect. This climate-related disaster has never been witnessed in Thailand before,” she said.

    Dr. Sangchan revealed to Xinhua a shocking amount of rainfall measured in the South during the last four months.

    “Just only four months, the total rainfall in southern Thailand is over 2,200 mm per year, comparing with 2,700 mm in the last whole year, it is very unusual rainfall. This is certainly a climate-related disaster which has already taken place in Thailand. ”

  23. Colorado Bob says:

    ” messaging “

  24. Laogai says:

    Dear progressives,

    Please, please, please don’t give up telling everybody about global warming. Please make it your main message, in everything you say. Please make the terms ‘progressive’ so synonymous with ‘talks endlessly about global warming’ that the mental connection becomes indelible. I hope that in 50 years time, when the progressives are mentioned people will say ‘oh, those are the people who say we’re all doomed because of global warming, right?’

    We missed our chance with Paul Ehrlich. Give us another chance. Paul Ehrlich never gave up on the message.

  25. John Mason says:

    Over here in the UK it is bloody hard work, too.

    But I’m never going to give up. But I’d like the chance to sound off a bit!

    The problem here (and it may be unique to here, but I doubt it) is that on the one hand we have a populist media, that sends out endless messages that will simply appeal to the confirmation-bias of those who have not looked at the whole thing in depth – and who WANT to be told it’s a myth, etc etc etc etc.

    On the other, the messaging here is not great. I try to do my bit with my blog, but too many environmental groups use – frankly – the wrong tactics. We desperately need a UK equivalent to CP. I’ve discussed this with Paul Allen, a friend for many years, up at the Centre for Alternative Technology, but he is convinced that their “Zero Caron Britain” project is the only way forward, because it is (and very admirably so)promoting solutions.

    Whilst I admire this myself, I also hang out with the locals here in pubs, cafes etc. These are farmers, railwaymen, mechanics and so on, all of them good people. Almost none of them, WRT climate, particularly understand the problems, for heaven’s sake, let alone going on to consider solutions! And the media fuels their doubt, almost on a daily basis. How does ZCB address this? Peak oil quick-fixes may work, but as to messaging, hardly anyone takes notice – and that is the point – to get round this one we all need to be on-side!

    Now I set out an ambition, I guess. If all those lads and lasses in the pubs and cafes across the UK, Europe and elsewhere fully understood what was going to hit their children and grandchildren, there would be demonstrations that would find their way into the history books.

    But you can understand my frustration here. I still think one of the best summaries of the situation came from Ray Ladbury, who has a great ability to condense a lot into a few phrases. I quote:

    If you don’t know about or understand the evidence that shows incontrovertibly that we are warming the planet, you are IGNORANT. No sin here. You can rectify your ignorance by hard study.

    If you refuse to put in the hard study, then you are WILFULLY IGNORANT and your opinion is worthless.

    If you refuse even to look at the evidence even when it is shoved in front of your face and still insist you understand better than all the experts, then you are a DENIALIST.

    Finally, if you insist that all the scientists are engaged in a global hoax to preserve their lucrative grants (which amount in salary to about what a mid-level IT administrator would make), then you are an IDIOT.

    That was the best comment on the whole shaboom I ever read.

    Cheers – John

  26. madcitysmitty says:

    So, what is simple message? The slogan? What is the central premise we all share? What’s the yardstick–the threshold requirement for turning things around?

    Isn’t it, “PRICE CARBON”? Isn’t that the sine qua non–without which we’re kidding ourselves about stopping global warming?

    Isn’t that the one question we need to ask every political candidate? “Will you vote to put a price on carbon?” It’s like abortion–either you support “choice” (or a woman’s right to choose) or you don’t.

    Isn’t that the talk-show message? Isn’t that the ONE thing we all agree on?

    Other suggestions?

  27. Wit's End says:

    swv #20, maybe Dick Cheney pulled Obama aside during the transition and reminded him of what happened to JFK.

    Consider the billions and billions of dollars at stake, the phony oil wars with the uncounted deaths, and ask, why not?

    Regarding the prediction for people to deny and ignore, I highly recommend the documentary about Noam Chomsky (for those who haven’t seen it),

    “Manufacturing Consent…Necessary Illusions…Thought Control in a Democratic Society” which begins with this quote from John Milton in 1642:

    “They who have put out the peoples eyes reproach them of their blindness.”

    Get some popcorn and watch it here:

  28. Joan Savage says:

    In the spirit of “All politics are local (Tip O’Neill),” All climate change is also local.

    People need to see how it is working out around themselves.

    The US EPA has had a program to have school children monitor the dates of first flowering, bud break, return of migratory birds, and so forth (see US EPA’s Climate Change Kids site). This is like the phenology records of Aldo Leopold, which were continued after his death by his daughter.

    What gave me a big heads up about my area was reading the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), “Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast: Science, Impacts, and Solutions” (2007).

  29. Laogai says:

    “Deniers may not like the in-your-face, here’s reality, “stick” part of the carrot stick messaging. All the more important to give it to them.”

    Brilliant! Bobby Seal and the Blank Panthers, in the face!! That’s a great idea.

    I think if the progressives were inextricably connected to the Blank Pandas in the public imagination, that would be so helpful. I’m sure Bobby the Seal would be happy to help, and save the polar bear. Please put this idea into action at once!

  30. Cool IT says:

    I think that this is most apropos to today and the global warming situation, as well as other situations. Of course Churchill was referring to the British government’s foot dragging vis a vie Hitler and Germany’s reclaiming of the Rhineland.
    This is an example of what leaders spoke like. Real talk!

    “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now it is thoroughly out of hand, we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline books. It falls into that long dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong –these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

    Winston Churchill,
    to the House of Commons,
    May 2, 1936

  31. Lou Grinzo says:

    I hate to say this, but I’m deeply conflicted about this entire topic.

    I have a deep-rooted belief that knowledge can fix many, even if not all, problems. Therefore I would like to believe that all we need is more and better messaging and eventually we’ll “win” this war of words, through either erosion or hitting the magic mix of content and presentation.

    But then I leave my home office and talk to people in the real world, and I feel hopelessly naive. I realize that we’re doing the equivalent of trying to convince kids to brush after every meal, avoid tooth-destructive foods, floss, etc., while the deniers are standing on the corner selling bags of candy and telling kids to ignore the scary guy with the statistics about tooth loss and the ugly photos of rotted teeth.

    I desperately don’t want to believe that the world is that shortsighted, that it will take a “climate 9/11” to wake us up, and nothing short of that will suffice. Of course, that’s a recipe for hell, high water, food shortages, massive fluxes of climate refugees, failed states, and the collapse of modern civilization, thanks to the long lead times built into the Earth System plus the latencies of political and economic systems responding to that wake up call.

    Yes, in the mean time I will continue to fight, as best I can, to educate and activate people, even those who would prefer to be left alone. But there are days when I think Sisyphus had it easy…

  32. The crucial missing element in the messaging if the failure to capture the practical significance of climate change as a world challenging moral and ethical issue. The practical significance is that countries like the United States may not frame the issue as a matter of national interest alone. Nations and individuals have not only interests but duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others. Because of this we may not only look at cost to the US and have duties to act in the face of uncertainty if waiting increases the harm. Almost all messaging on climate change is buying into the framing of the denial industry which is not only factual wrong but deeply and utterly ethically bankrupt. There are a dozen or so civilization challenging ethical questions raised by climate change. Progressive respond to factual claims of the deniers by making counter factual claims about economics and science taking off the table the numerous ethical obligations for action. Associate Professor Brown, Penn State University.

  33. Snapple says:

    I think conserving the environment is conservative. There is nothing conservative about what subversive, flag-waving radicals like Inhofe and Cuccinelli are doing.

    Denialist politicians are trying to undermine the government agencies that protect the people.

    The Vatican is having a climate science conference this weekend. The workshop is titled The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.

    The Vatican’s UN Permanent Observer also just had an event called “Suspicion and Conspiracy: Defending the Reputation of Noble Individuals.”

    I think the climate scientists are noble individuals who are being maligned by a filthy slurry of suspicion and conspiracy. The climate scientists are modern prophets who are trying to show mankind how to change so we can survive.

    It would be better if Attorney General Cucinelli’s ice-cold heart would melt instead of the Earth’s glaciers. The Attorney General is a law officer, but instead of upholding the law and protecting the innocent, he flaps his mouth, abuses his office, and persecutes our innocent prophets–climate scientists. I think this is because Attorney General Cuccinelli’s father is a natural-gas lobbyist.

    I email Cuccinelli’s Deputy W. Russell the same thing I write on my blog, but he never answers my questions.
    The Attorney General, who cites Alisher Usmanov’s Kommersant in his EPA suit, is not transparent about who his financial sponsors are. I want to know who the clients are of the public relations firms that give him money. I want to know what these clients are paying for.
    Maybe they are paying for an Attorney General, but we don’t know because there is no transparency.

    I want to know why Bobby Thompson gave him 55,000 dollars, too.

    These politicians are turning our country into a company town where the corrupt politicians answer to the industry bosses who sponsor their campaigns. That’s not democracy. That’s not conservative or liberal. It’s just corruption.

  34. Mike Roddy says:

    Lots of good comments, thanks, and it’s good to see that people realize facing reality is the best strategy. Not doing so is what doomed every other civilization that failed.

    And Joe Romm- thanks. Your blog is so much better than anything out there that our frustration would have become unbearable without you to show us the evidence- and maybe the way forward, too. By being unafraid to face facts or critics, you have inspired many of us to do the same, each in his own way.

  35. Ziyu says:

    We as progressives need to develop one catch phrase to answer the most common denier points like the way Luntz coined “death tax” and Palin made up “death panels”. These are the 3 most common aside from the rhetoric point “Al-Gore and the liberals are behind this!”
    1. The Earth is not warming/it is cooling.
    2. The warming is natural.
    3. There’s some other explanation. Sun spots, “geologic eons of time”, act of god, earth’s orbit…
    Here are some catch phrases I came up with.
    1. The infrared satellite thermometer would beg to differ.
    2. The same way a kid growing 2 inches a day is natural.
    3. Yes. There are other explanations. Got any that make any sense?

  36. Ziyu says:

    @Snapple #34, that’s because the root word conserve needs a direct object. The reason conservation and conservative don’t go together is because conservationists want to conserve the environment. Conservatives want to conserve the situation of the status quo. And the status quo happens to be dominated by environmental destruction, pollution, and fossil fuel addiction. That’s why those are incompatible.

  37. Wit's End says:

    Should Obama be judged by the company he keeps? Copied below is a seriously depressing list (assuming it’s true…I found it on the intertubes after all!). Lately I am coming to the sorry conclusion that the two party system is just there to serve as an illusion…a distraction. The same people are always in power and they just migrate from government “regulatory” agencies to industry, from military to political office…round and round the lucrative revolving door:

    Secret list of traveling companions on Obama trip to Brazil [the first is priceless. Obama named the President of GE, which paid no taxes last year despite record profits, to head the WH Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Like Immelt really cares about jobs].



    Jeffrey Robert Immelt is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the U.S.-based conglomerate General Electric. He holds an A.B. in Applied Mathematics from DartmouthCollege where he currently serves on the board of trustees and was president of his fraternity, Phi Delta Alpha, and an M.B.A. from HarvardBusinessSchool. On January 21, 2011, President Obama announced Immelt’s appointment as chairman of his outside panel of economic advisers.. “Immelt will retain his post at G.E. while becoming “chairman of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a newly named panel that President Obama is creating by executive order.”


    Aris Candris became president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric Company on July 1, 2008. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Candris served as senior vice president, Nuclear Fuel, providing fuel fabrication, components and services to commercial nuclear power plants worldwide. .He began his Westinghouse career in 1975 as a senior engineer in the former Advanced Reactor Division. Dr. Candris holds a B.A. from TransylvaniaUniversity in Lexington, Kentucky, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from CarnegieMellonUniversity.


    Mr. Hackett was named Chief Executive Officer in December 2003 and assumed the additional role of Chairman of the Board in January 2006. He also served as President from December 2003 to February 2010. Prior to joining Anadarko, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Devon Energy Corporation following its merger with Ocean Energy, Inc. in April 2003. He currently serves as a director of Fluor Corporation, Halliburton Company and The Welch Foundation.


    John V. Faraci, 60, is the chairman and chief executive officer of International Paper since November 2003. Earlier in 2003, he was elected president of International Paper, and he previously served as executive vice president and chief financial officer from 2000 to 2003. He also serves as a member of the boards of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, and the National Park Foundation. He is a trustee of DenisonUniversity and a member of the Citigroup International Advisory Board. Director since February 11, 2003. He attended DenisonUniversity, received an MBA from the University of Michigan and is a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. He is a trustee of the American Enterprise Institute.


    Anthony S. Harrington is President and CEO of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and a member of the Management Committee of Albright Capital Management, an affiliated investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. The firm’s Chairs are Madeleine K. Albright and Samuel R. Berger. Previously, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Brazil during a time of unprecedented bilateral engagement between the two countries. He was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support in a record 12 days. Mr. Harrington is a member of the Managing Board of Civitas Group, an affiliated security industry firm, and a trustee of the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise. He is also Co-Chair of the Brazil-U.S. Business Council and of the Advisory Council of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

  38. Mark says:

    I really appreciate this discussion and the many positive reasons Joe and others have given for speaking up about climate change.

    Perhaps the thing that hit me the hardest is the point that our opponents are talking about climate change all the time. How can we possibly expect to carry the day if we leave the field to our opponents?

    People like Rush and Glenn Beck operate by trying to silence their opponents and by trying to make them ashamed of their position. This is a very old tactic, one used by those trying to suppress the women’s right to vote, civil rights, worker’s rights and gay rights to name just a few. Those advocating for maintaining the status quo tried to convince women, African Americans, workers and gay people that they had more to lose more by speaking up than they had to gain.

    If those advocating for the status quo can convince those of us trying to change society, that we should be ashamed of our position, and that we should remain silent on climate change, then the Becks and Limbaughs have won.

  39. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Lots of good stuff here but like Lou #32, this leaves me deeply uneasy. Because? The whole notion of ‘messaging’ is based on a flawed theory of human beings. Such famous USA social scientists as Newcombe, Heider and Asch showed incontrovertably in the 50s and 60s that people are not passive or mechanical receptacles of information or messages. They may choose to disregard the message.

    Today’s communication experts have forgotten this work and use ‘information theory’ which is based on the same simplistic, and wrong, theory as economists use when they base all their work on the assumption that people are ‘rational’ rather than group animals who work on a combination of information and emotion, where emotion often comes out on top. They are purposeful and far from simple.

    I agree that people must know the truth about CC but any ‘message’ must connect with their own perceptions and experience, and the perceptions and experience of those they trust.

    And, if you intend to deliver this message through the medium of TV, it must end on a positive note – e.g. we still have time, we can beat this by X, Y, Z etc. ME

  40. Caw says:

    Global warming is the wrong description. Its hot flashes, not warming. It should be called Global Menapause. Old guys understand that this is scary.

  41. adelady says:

    Lou#32. I agree. The issue, I now think, is which particular ‘bit’ of knowledge should we focus on.

    Brought home to me, with what I thought was a fair amount of knowledge, watching Prof Iain Stewart’s How Earth Made Us series. (Brilliant TV, for those who’ve not yet seen it.)

    It took the planet 3 million years to lay down the amount of fossils we burn each year. Whaaat!?! Never thought of it that way before.

    I worked out that in the 70+ish years lifetime of a generation in an “advanced” economy, that’s over 200 million years’ worth of burnt fossils. Anyone with the least, remotest acquaintance with thrift or frugality knows, instantly, that this is absolutely mad. Especially when we think of the next step – that means that it will take the planet 200 million years to absorb and/or replenish the emissions of just one human generation if we rely on ‘natural cycles’ to deal with our not-so-natural disruption.

    This concept, and there must be many others like it, have the great advantage of simple appeal to ordinary ideas of common sense.

    Knowledge is good and there’s plenty available. Picking and choosing which particular items of information will more likely lead to better absorption and retention of knowledge is not so easy.

    Publicity like
    “Each barrel of oil/ truckload of coal represents ….. years of fossil accumulation. It will be used up in ….. hours / days.” might strike a chord with some people.

  42. Jim says:

    Joe, it seems you are reporting that Holdren was silenced by the Obama team when he wanted to mount a vigorous rebuttal to the Climategate smears. Obama won, Holdren was silenced, and the smears succeeded -especially in their short-term diversion around Copenhagen.

    Given that Chu and Lubchenko have also been sidelined, Obama is tragically reinforcing the climate denialists’ playbook. This is a scandal. Has anyone else covered this in the media?

  43. Personally I still consider myself to be for the most part a classical liberal, which means individual rights, property rights, the free market and limited government. But among the leadership of the conservative/libertarian/Republican movement they are almost unanimous in their professed belief that climate change is a political issue and they are at this point unwilling to broach the possibility that it is otherwise and they are proudly intolerant of those that are willing to do.

    The possibility that polluters are violating the rights of others when they pollute — even when the consequences of the pollution (whether it be dioxin, asbestos, secondhand smoke, CFCs or carbon emissions) are life-threatening is something that they are entirely unwilling to consider. They knee-jerkingly attack the science which shows otherwise. I don’t think that you can turn a blind eye to that.

    I don’t believe that you can wait for people who they identify with conservativism or the Republican Party to speak out in defense of science and humanity’s future. For one thing, politics is often won by convincing those in the middle. The people who may be swayed either way.

    Whether you are a genuine conservative, liberal or independent who acknowledges the existence of climate change, the seriousness of it and that our emissions are what’s driving it — you should speak out. You should speak out about climate change. You should speak out about the denialism that is running rampant on the political right.

    You should speak out about the consequences of both. The famine due to drought and the acidification of our oceans. The loss of top soil that is torn away by torrential rain. The loss of our great coastal cities that will prove defenseless against ever-rising sea levels and the onslaught of supercharged hurricanes. The loss of species due to global climate disruption at rate that hasn’t been seen in except during the great extinctions of the past.

    The poverty due to the constant disruption of our economies. Due to all-too-common wars over the few resources that are left. The disease. A future towards which humanity is hurdling. A future that it is still within our power to avoid.

    You should speak out about the vested interests who have committed themselves to turning a scientific issue into a political one in the pursuit of their financial interests. This means the Kochs, Scaifes, Bradleys, Exxon and the American Legislative Exchange Council. You should do so even if it offends your Republican uncle, libertarian neighbor and conservative coworker.

    It is time to speak out. If you don’t then will you leave a vacuum in the public discussion that will be filled by the forces of sociopathic greed, denial, ideological extremism and unreason and leaving the future in their hands. We and our children deserve a better future. It is a future that is within our grasp if we are able to recognize and acknowledge things for what they and act accordingly.

  44. caerbannog says:

    A little OT, but not too much…

    Dr. Romm, here’s a ball that is screaming to have you pick it up and run with it.

    The LA Times has just run an “above-the-fold” story about the Muller/BEST project on its web-site. The whole story is framed as a most excellent denier “own goal”.

    Linky here:,0,772697.story

    Critics’ review unexpectedly supports scientific consensus on global warming
    A UC Berkeley team’s preliminary findings in a review of temperature data confirm global warming studies.

    A team of UC Berkeley physicists and statisticians that set out to challenge the scientific consensus on global warming is finding that its data-crunching effort is producing results nearly identical to those underlying the prevailing view.

    The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project was launched by physics professor Richard Muller, a longtime critic of government-led climate studies, to address what he called “the legitimate concerns” of skeptics who believe that global warming is exaggerated.

    But Muller unexpectedly told a congressional hearing last week that the work of the three principal groups that have analyzed the temperature trends underlying climate science is “excellent…. We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.”

  45. Tony O'Brien says:

    One way or another we will have a carbon free economy. Either we will prepare and go into renewables or society will fall off a cliff when coal and oil run out. OK run out to the extent that the remaining “reserves” are not economic to extract.

    Many of those who do not accept climate change also do not accept peak oil. “Those Saudis are deliberately holding back supplies”

    The cliff scenario is looking more and more likely, chaos is coming.

  46. Wonhyo says:

    I’ve been advocating climate science and smart energy policies for years. In the American culture that is a lose-lose proposition. I get attacked by fellow liberals for being too extreme and outspoken on these issues. I’ve lost social standing among my peers for talking about these issues. I haven’t converted a single person from denier/agnostic to concerned/activist.

    I get no support from fellow liberals when discussing alternative energy in the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil volcano. I get no support from fellow liberals when discussing truly renewable energy in the aftermath (actually still ongoing) Japanese nuclear disaster. If anything, I get portrayed as the bad guy bullying my climate/energy denier acquaintances with facts and logic.

    America is a country where people want to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, pat themselves on the back, then go back to business as usual.

  47. paulm says:

    One of your most important posts.

    This is the essense of what it is all about.

  48. It is extraordinary in Australia after a summer of fires, floods etc. that we are now debating a Carbon Tax.

    We’ve seen billions of dollars in damage, a major city flooded and dozens dead.

    Insurance premiums are up, food prices are rising.. and yet the most major politicians are terrified to mention the CC in relation to these events. Not that can definitively attribute CC to this past summers events, but to use them as salient examples of what we *can* expect.

    Indeed, I’ve come to the conclusion they are afraid themselves to mention CC…

    After all, to have to tell the public it is worth than they thought is a message no politician wants to transmit.

    Political campaigns are built around the “You’ve never had it so good!” or “You can have it even better!” type of message.

    Who wants to say “The Party is over!”

  49. adelady says:

    WtD. But Party’s over doesn’t have to be the message.

    My 86 year old mum is +not+ a believer in the science, but she is absolutely mortified that Germany generates more solar power than we do. “Wicked wanton waste” is one expression that comes to mind. “What’s the matter with everyone?” shows more finely honed wordsmithing. So she’s now got solar panels, I’m a bit of a pariah because I’ve only got solar hot water. (The fact that I did it 20+ years ago is neither here nor there.) Some parts of the older, wealthier generations do respond well to the double appeal of maintaining the value of their homes and to the frugality of using less power from the grid.

    As for the party’s over for the rest of us. Once a carbon tax and its offsets are running and just part of the general picture, the response of people generally will change. Firstly there are, in fact, a lot of people who accept that it’s the right thing to do even if they’re underwhelmed by the prospect of a bit more expense. For the others? It’s a bit like mobile phones and internet. 15 years ago the idea of spending $40-100 a month on phones and such would have seemed outrageous or just silly to most people. Now they just pay it.

  50. John Mason says:

    Cool IT – that Churchill quote is indeed powerful stuff.

    Sadly, what he is saying is that we are a species who best learns a lesson by going to hell and back in the process. Is this really to be Mankind’s epitaph? And can we prevent it being so?

    Cheers – John

  51. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The very question as to whether we should proclaim the truth, loud and long, seems to me a species of moral dereliction of duty. The truth as we know it is an absolute value, never to be derogated. That this truth is the key to the survival of humanity makes it the greatest truth in human history, so refusal or unwillingness to defend it becomes moral perfidy. The other side, the side of greed, dishonesty, character assassination and, if they succeed, mass death, feels no compunctions, moral or intellectual in lying, dissembling and misrepresenting. That is their nature. And for God’s sake forget the Democrats as we in Australia must forget ‘Labor’. They are the other face of the coin of business rule. They will always serve their paymasters, and, like the MSM, they are universally Rightwing when it comes to defending business privileges. Just how much longer can you go on being mystified by Obama and the Democrats’ invariable incompetence and playing into the hands of their pretend adversaries, the Republicans, before the penny drops?

  52. Richard Brenne says:

    We need it all. We are never going to be perfect, so we need to try every kind of messaging in every medium all the time and then discard what doesn’t work and keep experimenting and doing what works more and more. We need less of the kind of timid, second-guessing pseudo-psychology and polling that torpedoed the Gore and Kerry campaigns when both could’ve won with enough honesty, morality, passion, their genuine authentic selves and the courage of their convictions. These are exactly the same things we need to bring to all our communications about climate change.

    Abolitionists needed everything from the fiery tongues of Garrison and Douglas to the ultra-pragmatic politics of Lincoln, who wouldn’t sign the Emancipation Proclamation until a major Union victory in battle.

    As swv said at #20 Civil Rights needed the fiery tongues of Bobby Seale (and Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and especially their inspiration, Malcolm X) as well as Martin Luther King, who only ended his fiery speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his “I have a dream” vision.

    Franklin Roosevelt’s speech the day after Pearl Harbor was like Churchill’s “blood, sweat and tears” speech, not a vision of a flowery future but a dire warning of a very real threat.

    Nuclear weapons needed similarly dire warnings beginning with Oppenheimer’s own Bagavad Gita quote at the first atomic bomb test, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” and continuing through all the dire warnings of scientists, authors and filmmakers including such works as Shute’s “On the Beach” and Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.”

    I’m sure many would’ve warned some or all of these people not to proceed with their messages, but we need every grieving, angry, cynical, despairing and even humorous message about climate change that is also accurate, honest and caring. Dr. Strangelove alone at various times is each of these.

    Just like we need every sincere and earnest comment made in good faith (deniers’ comments are either ignorant, made in bad faith or both) here, we need the entire range of emotions, approaches and artistry that is consistent with what the latest and best science tells us about climate change. I trust and encourage every sincere commenter here to go communicate climate change in their own unique way to the world, however imperfectly at first. We need it all.

  53. Richard D says:

    @ #26 John Mason

  54. John Mason says:

    Caerbannog #45,

    Well done too for holding your ground in the denialist sh*tstorm that follows in the comments after that LA Times piece!!

    Cheers – John

  55. caerbannog says:

    #55 — Here’s my favorite denier response over there:

    As for CO2 emissions and the Eocene, explain to me how the ice core record shows CO2 changes *lagging* temperature changes.

    Eocene ice core record??? Har-har-hardy har-har!!! A classic “beverage through the nose” moment.

  56. John Mason says:

    Oh dear! Looks like “Take two denialist talking-points, place in a bowl, sprinkle moderately with ignorance and then whisk until it thickens. Then post somewhere on the internet. Repeat 974 times.”

    I think that’s how they do it, at least!

    Cheers – John

  57. Chris Winter says:

    Paul Krugman on the latest GOP climate hearings:
    The Truth, Still Inconvenient

  58. ellie cohen says:

    Thanks so much for this excellent piece. I speak often on climate change, science and ecology, and know from experience that the facts, when presented with a clear set of actions, truly does mobilize people into action.

    Below is a relevant piece from the American Prospect, worth considering alongside the messaging approach:

    “The New Face of Activism,” Deepak Bhargava, “The American Prospect,” May 2010.
    First, we know that strategies relying on insider influence are incapable of delivering large-scale change. Dynamics in D.C. reflect the underlying social forces in the country—the extent to which certain ideas and constituencies are seen to be on the move and winning others to their side. Access to powerful people is not power, and it is not a recipe for social change.
    Time and again in the immigrant rights movement, mobilizations on the outside have altered the fundamental dynamics in Washington. The pro-immigrant marches in 2006 stopped legislation that at the time seemed inevitable. And the nativist countermobilization in 2007 shattered support for reform in the Republican Party and defeated more legislation. Little of what happened in D.C. in this period can be understood without reference to these movement dynamics.
    Second, “call your congressperson” campaigns full of paid ads and Astroturf fail to light up people’s imagination or tap their deepest energies. This is a hard lesson to teach. The prevailing orthodoxy in Washington and among progressive organizations is transactional; it’s always about the next cosponsor for a piece of legislation or the next issue campaign, all involving organizations being asked to generate calls to Congress.
    The Tea Party movement didn’t focus on legislative mechanics, nor did it focus on traditional legislative campaign methods—it changed the debate by engaging people around a set of ideas and values and mobilized their intensity in dramatic fashion. The transactional approach needs to be replaced with a movement sensibility that is connected to the heart and the spirit, one that is ongoing and owned by the people involved.
    Third, reform movements have to be grounded in and speak to the real experience of the people who are mobilized. Advocates and politicians too often blur issues, couching ideas in poll-tested blather that takes the moral force out of arguments for reform. This mushy rhetoric prevents stories of suffering and struggle—which motivate and compel people in the middle to take a side—from coming through clearly.
    The health care debate suffered from the reluctance of some advocates to clearly make the case for what the legislation would accomplish—mainly, providing insurance to roughly 30 million people and offering protections against preda¬tory insurance companies. Fearing that forthright emphasis on easily understood moral principles couldn’t win in the court of public opinion, we got lost in a morass of arguments about reducing deficits and bending the cost curve.
    Fourth, the standard vocabulary of advocacy campaigns has to change. The traditional approach starts by emphasizing support among “swing” voters, fieldwork in swing districts, and advocacy by “unusual voices” such as moderate Republicans or business leaders. This approach is a recipe for trouble without first consolidating broad support from the base. The inten¬sity of energy from a base, while usually not sufficient in itself, opens up the possibility for genuine alliances with other social forces and the middle, ultimately leading to majority support.
    Consider the way in which the Tea Party was first written off as a fringe phenomenon and now has shaped national dialogue. And how the immigrant rights movement has put on the national table an issue that was literally taboo 10 years ago—and developed a powerful coalition of supporters.
    Finally, it’s essential to remember that electoral politics are not an end but a means to achieving an agenda. Confusion about the relationship between progressive movements and the Democratic Party is rampant and disabling. Here we could learn a lesson from the Tea Baggers—they are clear that the Republican Party might at times be a vehicle to achieve their ends, but the ends are what matter. And their independent sensibility has resulted in greater influence on the national debate. Electoral outcomes alone do not produce policy gains: Richard Nixon, a Republican, proposed a guaranteed annual income for the poor; Democrat Bill Clinton ended welfare as we knew it.

  59. Andy P says:

    I appreciate this post — I hear the “don’t talk about climate change, talk about jobs” argument often and it doesn’t resonate for me.

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about climate messaging and building a climate movement, which I’m currently writing my thesis on at the University of Minnesota. About that…

    I posted a survey on Climate Progress somewhat over a month ago to gather perspectives on this very topic for my thesis, which I’m hoping to publish in a journal when I’m done writing it. A lot of CP readers took this survey — thanks SO MUCH for all your responses, which I’ve been reading carefully over these past few weeks. Now comes the next part: I’ve taken a number of the statements that were submitted and put them into a new survey. This is part two of two. In this new survey, you don’t need to do any writing — just rank your agreement/disagreement with a bundle of statements about the best way to build a climate movement. If you filled out my first survey, I probably used something you wrote, so take this second survey and see if you recognize any of your ideas! If you didn’t take the first survey, I would still really appreciate it if you would do this one. The majority of the writing for my thesis will be based on this statement-sorting survey.

    This is the link: The survey takes about 20-30 minutes to complete, but it’s all sorting and no writing.

    I’ll do my best to put the ideas that this survey generates to productive work. Thanks for your time,


  60. It’s a blunder for humans.