No more Etch-a-Sketch on climate: Let’s rebuild, not rebrandMarch 29th, 2012 | by Heather Coleman
Politico ran a story last week highlighting what they called the “rebranding” of global warming. Organizers and pollsters from across the country have concluded that the terms “global warming” and “climate change” have been politicized. The case pollsters and communicators make is that campaigners working on these issues need to know their audience – they need to get savvy and avoid the polarizing politics of climate change.
But the key question needs to be: what are the implications of this approach? Are organizations working on issues related to climate change sacrificing the long-term fight for short-term wins? (By the way, the group of organizations in the climate community continues to expand despite the political setbacks of recent years. The most recent members of the US Climate Action Network are the NAACP, Population Action International, and the Humane Society.) Are we perpetuating the myth that there is a debate out there about the science?
The pollsters and communicators are only getting half the story right. Yes, we need to know our audience, but we also need to know and cultivate our messengers and I don’t see that happening at levels necessary to combat catastrophic climate change. A clean air campaign focused on healthy air makes sense to defend and promote EPA carbon pollution standards—it will deliver near-term wins that are critical for the US to meet our international climate commitments— but it will not set the stage for transformational change and that is what is needed to address this issue head on.
Sustained and adequate investments need to be made in movement building organizations (e.g., 350.org) that are unafraid to talk climate change and that are unequivocally talking about the implications of climate change on communities, especially those most vulnerable who lack the resources to prepare for and respond to climate shocks. New leaders need to be cultivated (see Climate Reality Project) who are willing to get real with the American public (and those people are most likely not scientists).
We need to spend more time, energy, and money rebuilding this movement and speaking the truth to those who will listen. In the words of KC Golden, a leader in the national climate movement at Climate Solutions: “If we won’t tell more than a small fraction of the truth, how can we expect our leaders to have the political space to act on the truth? How can we even believe in ourselves enough to have any power? We can’t just be an Etch a Sketch, running from jobs to health to whatever we think will get us a little bump in the polls.” Amen to that.