After a wave election for conservatives, it’s always a good idea for progressives to go back to the basics — like good, consistent messaging. Certainly, the 2014 political tsunami was so big it easily overtopped efforts to make a modest levee out of climate change.
So we must redouble our efforts. How timely, then, that Betsy Taylor of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions has updated her excellent messaging guide on climate and clean energy, “Climate Solutions for a Stronger America.”
Back in 2012, she “commissioned a national survey of likely voters to determine how leaders can engage and win on climate and energy in key races around the country.” She then consulted with leading communications experts to weave together a coherent narrative from the threads of those findings. This year, Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions went through the process again, combining polling data and other recent surveys with input from communications experts.
The result is another must-read for those who, like me, believe in coherent narratives. The research “identified three top-performing messages” that form a “persuasive narrative triangle” (see figure above). Here is more on the first of the three major messages:
Message: “We can no longer ignore our strange and increasingly severe weather. We have a moral obligation to our children to protect them — that means preparing for tackling climate change now.”
Underlying Value: Moral Responsibility
Tips & Talking Points: Stress urgency. Emphasize that we’re seeing climate impacts now. People who feel more urgency are more likely to support efforts to cut carbon pollution. But it’s important to also show them the solutions.
Talk about kids growing up today (not “future generations,” which creates the misperception that impacts and costs are far off.)
Talk about the costs of inaction far outweighing investments in solutions. We are already paying the price for weather disasters, crop failures, and higher insurance rates.
Certainly the moral argument is the winning one, as I’ve argued. And it’s key to focus on increasingly extreme weather since we know linking that trend to climate change is scientifically accurate (see “Trenberth on How To Relate Climate Extremes to Climate Change”). And costs are rising (see “The $188 Billion Price Tag from Climate-Related Extreme Weather”).
We also know this message resonates with people (see Poll: Majority of Americans Understand Global Warming Worsens Extreme Weather and Want Nation to Act and Poll: Americans’ Understanding of Climate Change Increasing With More Extreme Weather, Warmer Temperatures.
Here’s more on the second message:
Oil Companies’ Stranglehold on Democracy
Message: “Oil companies are using billions in profits to rig the system against clean energy solutions. We need to break their stranglehold on our democracy, and put people, not oil companies, back in charge.”
Underlying Value: Accountability
Tips & Talking Points: Emphasize the oil industry’s deceptive, coordinated, and well-funded campaigns to mislead Americans on climate science and block clean energy solutions.
Point out it’s the same strategy — using some of the exact same people — tobacco companies used to hide the truth about the risks of smoking.
This message is an important one and should be included in some form in all major presentations on climate.
Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions notes, “It explains mixed messages” — why Americans hear so much about how urgent a problem climate change is while, at the same time, they don’t see much action on it. “Now they can see why progress has been slow; big oil and coal have thrown up many roadblocks to progress.”
Here’s more on the crucial third message:
Underlying Value: Empowerment
Taking Charge of Our Own Energy
Message: “Investing in clean energy means investing in our own communities and taking charge of our own energy. Instead of subsidizing big oil, we invest in wind turbines on farms, solar on our roofs, and schools that use less energy — creating local jobs, stronger communities and a more stable climate.”
Underlying Value: Empowerment
Tips & Talking Points: It’s now. It’s local. Talk about practical, clean-energy solutions available today. Describe a local clean energy success story — of solar, wind, a green building, or energy savings.
Focus on benefits to people — our families, our towns, and our neighborhoods — and talk about regular people taking positive action.
Take on opponents with patriotic pride: Those who say nothing can be done about climate change forget who we are and what we can do. No one should doubt America’s ingenuity and resolve. People are proud of America’s history of problem-solving and innovation.
The solutions and clean energy jobs message has always been among the most important, as pretty much every poll in recent years makes clear.
There is more in this guide, including “Key Supporting Facts,” examples of how to respond to specific attacks, and “General Communication Tips” (like “Repeat, repeat, repeat”). Kudos to Betsy Taylor and Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions for putting together this well-timed, must-read guide.