Must-Read: A Guide For Engaging and Winning on Climate And Clean Energy

Betsy Taylor of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions has put together an excellent messaging guide on climate and clean energy, “Climate Solutions for a Stronger America.”

She first “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.

Readers know I’m a big believer in coherent narratives. Taylor’s guide is a must-read.

Here is more on the three major messages:


Key Finding 1: Extreme Weather

Voters have taken note of the nation’s unusual and severe weather — the tornadoes, heat waves, wildfires, and drought. The public clearly gets that something is going on with the climate because they see it in their own lives and on the news. Some are still uncertain about the causes of climate disruption, but three out of four now recognize it is real

Underlying Value: ResponsibilityMessage: We can’t ignore the increasingly severe weather: It’s already causing billions in damage and looks like it’s only getting worse. We owe it to our kids to protect them and their futures, and that means addressing climate change before it becomes irreversible. Running away from tough problems only makes them worse. That’s not how America works. We need to implement common sense strategies now. We know what’s right, we know how to implement clean energy solutions, and we know that reducing fossil fuel dependence will make America stronger. It’s time to step up and get it doneTalk about current and recent weather. Spend less time talking about what may happen in the future and more on severe weather and impacts happening now. Use local examples, but also refer to the wildfires, drought, and major storms that have been in the national news.

Introduce “climate disruption.” Begin to use “climate disruption” instead of climate change when speaking about extreme weather and local impacts. “Disruption” makes it slightly harder for people to dismiss unusual events as being caused by natural weather cycles.

Focus on destructive weather, not just heat. Destructive, costly, and unpredictable weather events are more unsettling to voters than just record high temperatures. Voters do connect higher temperatures to destructive wildfires and drought.

Talk about kids and grandkids. In America, we put families first and that means making sure we leave a healthy, secure world for our kids and grandkids.In early August, the nation’s top climate scientist at NASA reported that things are going to get worse and that climate change must be addressed now if we want to make sure our kids have a safe future.

Message Pivot: Use the message triangle to link to messages grounded in the other two core messages of patriotic pride (#2) and accountability (#3). “We have a responsibility to act, and American ingenuity can drive the solutions. It’s time to break the stranglehold that Big Oil and Coal has on Washington — a stranglehold that is preventing us from taking action on climate change.

Certainly 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 since it resonates with people:

Here’s the second finding, on solutions:

Key Finding 2: American Ingenuity and Solutions

Voters are hungry for optimistic solutions and confident leadership regarding climate change and clean energy. Voters believe in the potential of clean energy and in our nation’s ability to overcome challenges: Two-thirds disagreed that “given the tough economy, we can’t afford the high cost of transitioning to clean energy” and that “there is nothing we can do about climate change.”

Underlying Value: Patriotic PrideMessage: No one should doubt America’s ingenuity and resolve. Those who say nothing can be done about climate change forget who we are and what we can do. We already have the energy technologies to run our economy cleanly and affordably. American businesses and scientists have developed amazing renewable energy technologies, including solar mirrors that magnify the power of the sun, efficient wind turbines and jet fuel from algae. America can build a healthier, more secure future by leading the world in clean energy solutions. Developing clean energy creates jobs, strengthens local economies, and helps us gain control of our energy future.

Voters are seeking confident leaders who are willing to take on the complex problems of our times. Without strong leadership, climate change can be intimidating. Remind voters about practical, available clean energy technologies and solutions available today instead of focusing primarily on solutions projected for the future.

To counter messages that portray clean energy as unrealistic, take the patriotic high ground. Make the case that the United States has already developed the technologies and has the solutions we need to make the transition to renewable energy. Give simple and visual examples of solutions. Here’s one: many technologies have been developed to take advantage of geothermal energy — the heat from the earth. Instead of drilling for more fossil fuels, we can drill down to the steam and hot water in the Earth and use that heat for our homes and office buildings.

Talk about clean energy solutions as a source of job creation, a strategy for America to take control of our energy and economic future, and a way to avoid carbon pollution. Use local examples of solar, wind, environmental buildings, or carbon-reducing transit systems that have generated jobs in your community or state. Renewable technologies are positive, clean, and forward-looking — suggesting a better tomorrow. Naysayers are selling America short and underestimating our capabilities.

Message Pivot: Use the message triangle to link to the other core two messages grounded in responsibility (#1) and accountability (#3): Americans don’t run away from big challenges. We turn them into big opportunities. We have a responsibility to our kids. But Big Oil and the Koch Brothers are standing in the way: corrupting our political process and blocking American clean energy innovation. It’s time to take our future back, and clean energy’s a great way to do it.

The solutions and clean energy jobs message has always been among the most important, as pretty much every poll makes clear. See CP’s 2011 post, “Independents Support Federal Investment in ‘Green Jobs’ 2-to-1 Despite Solyndra Media Storm,” which quoted this finding:

In dozens of focus groups we have conducted this month across the country on a wide variety of subjects, when voters are asked where they would like new jobs in their state to come from, the first words out of their mouths are almost always the same — clean energy and related technology. Voters believe that the clean energy economy is here and is growing, and they want their state to have a part of it.

Returning to Taylor’s guide, here is the final message:

Key Finding 3: Big Oil and Coal are Blocking Clean Energy

Voters recognize that big fossil fuel companies have an unfair amount of influence over energy policy decisions in Washington. They see Big Oil as a greedy corporate actor that coordinates with SuperPacs, the billionaire Koch Brothers, and corrupt politicians to manipulate our government, pad their profits, and suppress clean energy innovation. Voters understand, correctly, that the undue influence of fossil fuel interests is an obstacle to progress. This finding allows us to construct a powerful narrative that puts climate and clean energy champions on the offensive (with messages 1 and 2), and associates opponents with fossil fuel interests that voters deeply distrust. Nearly six out of ten voters are troubled a lot or a fair amount by “oil companies pouring tens of millions of dollars into so-called superPACS advertising campaigns in order to influence key elections.”Underlying Value: AccountabilityMessage: It’s time to break the stranglehold that the oil and coal companies have on Washington. They are rigging the system to pad their profits, block clean energy innovation, and prevent responsible action to protect our kids from climate disruption. They pay for deceptive campaigns to spread doubts about climate science and the role of fossil fuels in causing climate change.Call for political leaders to hold oil and coal companies accountable and fight back against corporations that are “rigging the system” against clean energy and “not playing by the rules.” Remind the public that, “What’s best for the oil companies is not what’s best for the American economy and the American people. And especially not what’s best for our children’s future.”

Challenge the credibility of opposition claims by letting voters know that the fossil fuel companies are conducting a deceptive media campaign to spread doubt — distorting science, manipulating our political system, and blocking America’s progress toward a reducing dependence on oil and coal. It’s the same strategy the tobacco companies used to hide the deadly impacts of smoking, and some of the same people are behind it.

If it’s felt like we haven’t made fast enough progress in this country in tackling climate change because there’s been a lot of uncertainty in the science — Guess what? There’s been a coordinated, well-funded effort by the petroleum industry to MAKE the American public feel confused and to delay progress in this critical area. I’m reading from a memo from the American Petroleum Institute, stating “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science. National Academy of Sciences calls the science behind climate disruption “settled fact.”

Message Pivot: Use the message triangle to link to messages grounded in the other two core messages of responsibility (#1) and patriotic pride (#2). Oil and coal companies can never convince us that fossil fuel dependence is a good thing. So they deny climate science and undermine clean energy. The truth is that clean energy is abundant and affordable and essential to a healthy future.. No one should doubt America’s ingenuity and ability to meet this challenge. Those who say that nothing can be done about climate change forget what America is capable of. We can’t ignore the growing reality of severe weather — and we owe it to our kids to protect them, and that means addressing climate change before it becomes irreversible.

This final message is an important one and should be included in some form in major presentations on climate.

There is more in this guide, including “Key Supporting Facts,” examples of how to respond to specific attacks, a sample op-ed and a variety of soundbites. Kudos to Betsy Taylor and Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions for putting together this must-read report.