Tag Archive: business


Arnold Schwarzenegger has suggested he might devote after the Governorship to climate change work. How? By focusing on the business end and never mentioning climate change by name. And presumably by being very, very quotable.

The Governator may yet lead the way in the business of climate

One of the most interesting analyses of climate change communications out there is buried in a recent Guardian article on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s future. “The Governator” has speculated he could spend his future after the governorship drumming up support and capital for climate-change friendly technology, a path not dissimilar to Tony Blair’s work on climate change since leaving office, including a recent Chinese low-carbon business initiative.

What’s interesting about this is the focus: future technology, business and big money. Hardly the hallmarks of traditional environmentalism, to be sure. What is even more interesting is that he consciously chooses his language to reflect this: he makes it clear that his strategy is to avoid referring to climate change or greenhouse gases, presumably to sidestep the entire climate change debates going on in the US. He also speaks of avoiding the polarised US politics in this issue, so perhaps by talking about “clean tech” and “future energy sources” he can avoid spooking the businessmen out there who shudder at environmentalism but smile on visions of future technology.

He’s certainly crystal clear when he says on climate change groups: “People get stuck and fall in love with their slogans and with their little agendas”. His pragmatic approach may prove just the ticket. It also chimes perfectly with the recommendations of the Hartwell Paper last May, which argues for “an indirect approach, which pulls on the twin levers of reducing the energy intensity of economies and the carbon intensity of energy” to avoid the “hyper-politicised” environment surrounding arguments over the science.

Those who have seen the film “Amazing Grace” about the life of William Wilberforce will know that the British slave trade industry was broken down through the back door by focusing on the trade with Britain’s enemies, reframing it as a patriotic issue and by the usual anti-slave-trade lobbyists keeping their head down so the bill passed unnoticed. The same slight-of-hand could come in useful here if those like Schwarzenegger are able to avoid the overblown battleground of climate science and get on with advancing the technology, in line with the Hartwell Paper’s “indirect approach” thesis.

Schwarzenegger is not the only one choosing his words carefully on this. Reading a typical article on “Renewable Energy News”, like a typically business oriented one on GE’s investment in “clean technology”, there’s a sense of a business community avoiding a guilty secret that renewable energy is associated with this hippie-Guardian-reader-sandal-wearer-tree-hugger stuff. Even after The Stern Review, a UK government cross-bench consensus, campaigning by both presidential candidates from 2008 and big reports by the likes of Deutsche Bank and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, climate change is something some of those business feel a little self-conscious about discussing too openly.

Schwarzenegger also sees himself as a communicator who communicates clearly by simplifying: “I think that I have the talent of speaking the language in such a way so that the world understands it rather than making it complicated,” he said. This was a trait notoriously ridiculed in George W. Bush, but there is little doubt his plain-speaking style won him elections (as well as praise from former sultan of spin Alastair Campbell), and Schwarzenegger shows signs of some of the same talent.

It is well worth browsing Schwarzenegger quotes online. Among my favourites are “Gray Davis can run a dirty campaign better than anyone, but he can’t run a state”  and “One of my movies was called ‘True Lies.’ It’s what the Democrats should have called their convention”. Oh, and the famous “To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: ‘Don’t be economic girlie men'”.

I’m looking forward to more of the same on renewable energy.

Vince Cable’s speech at the Lib Dem party conference seemed chaotic and anti-market, where his Labour predecessors might have positioned themselves more skilfully at a mid-point between business and detractors of the free market.

Disclaimer

First, let me hold up my hands and say


Vince Cable speaks to the Lib Dem party conference

1. I know this train of thought has little or nothing to do with climate change, but it interested me to explore some rhetoric as part of a wider project of thinking about communications.

2. My understanding of party political speeches is limited to what I read in the papers, and doubtless major conference speeches are carefully tailored to many different audiences and speechwriters do not just knock out anything they think sounds good and there are many layers there I can’t begin to fathom. So by all means take my thoughts with a pinch of salt.

WWBD?

In watching Vince Cable’s speech today to the Liberal Democrat party conference and the subsequent news coverage I found myself asking WWBD? – what would Blair do? The Business Secretary and high-profile Lib Dem coalition member’s staff leaked phrases which appeared on the Guardian website last night including his intention to “shine a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour” and “Let me be quite clear…the government’s agenda is not one of laissez-faire. Markets are often irrational or rigged”. These turns of phrases suggested an aggressively anti-business and anti-market approach that made the headlines but was nothing like the detail of the speech itself, which at one point explicitly agreed with Adam Smith.


Blair: Still in many ways the yardstick for political public speaking. He and his team earned the reputation "sultans of spin"

Buried as I am in the former Prime Minister’s autobiography, my impression is that the new Labour project in general and Blair in particular, always seemed to have a knack for stating their own mid-point between two positions. Most clearly this came from their positioning between the far left of Old Labour and the hard right of the Tories, but also time and again on other issues. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” springs to mind, but a quick flick through the internet shows me “An Age of Achievement is within our grasp – but it depends on an Ethic of Education” from Blair’s 1996 Ruskin speech. Both of these deliberate sound bites take a straightforward statement and modify it with a balancing statement to show the two strands of ideas being reconciled.

Rethinking capitalism

Cable similarly presented two ideas in his speech and vaguely sought to reconcile them. But the soundbites were unequivocal and the reality of the speech seemingly fudged. He argued at one point “we need successful business” but followed up that statement with two paragraphs of strong anti-capitalist rhetoric. He later returned to the need to drive growth in a section on where it would come from and has protested elsewhere that he is resolutely not as anti-business as the main soundbites from his speech suggest, but the overall impression was of schizophrenia rather than reconciliation of two conflicting perspectives into, if I may use the phrase, a third way.

My impression is that Cable, following much of the current climate of opinion is looking for a new model for capitalism, a popular topic following the banking crash and disillusionment with market economics. I can give you no better evidence of this wider sense of a public discussion moving that way than the recent New Statesman article on the recent wave of books on this topic. His suspicion of large-scale corporate takeovers, his chastisement of banks while also explicitly intending to rely on them to fuel recovery and his rhetoric in today’s speech of reining in capitalism to create “a level playing field for small business” suggest he favours state invention as a means of managing and aiding market capitalism. It is as if he divides his ideas into encouraging “good” aspirational, competitive, hard-working business and “bad” greedy, oversized and powerful business. If this state-enabled capitalism is his key message – and that’s a big “if” – it is not coming across.


Toby Ziegler, the fictional White House Director of Communications and principle speechwriter on TV series "The West Wing". Hero and inspiration to many fans

Your blogger’s failed Toby Ziegler moment

I thought I’d try my hand at writing a New Labouresque soundbite to this effect and see if I have a future as a West-Wing style political operator. This has gone absolutely nowhere, but here are my attempts:

Markets must be allowed liberty, but not licence” – not clear enough.

The wild horses of markets power our economy, but should not be allowed to stampede through the town” – ridiculous flowery metaphor.

A friend to business, an enemy to business gone bad” – “business gone bad” sounds absurd, vaguely like a zombie movie.

We must chart a middle course between the rock of too much government management, stifling innovation and restricting growth, and the hard place of markets raging out of control and damaging that same growth” – tortuous attempt to fit an idea round a cliché.

Lessons for climate change communication

Perhaps nothing too clear-cut, but there is no doubt that there are examples of polarisation in climate change debates to be overcome, not only the rethinking of climate sceptics following the storm of “climategate” but also the need to reconcile adaptation and mitigation, market approaches and bottom-up approaches, technological development and behaviour change and climate change with peak oil and sustainability. Much as New Labour tried to hold onto the support of both the old left and the centre-left middle class, so climate change policy and rhetoric may need to drag together nature-loving conservationists and hard-nosed economists.

Food for thought.