Tag Archive: communication


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.

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The centre-left, human-rights-aware liberals do not need convincing that climate change is a big deal. Conservative (with a small ‘c’) middle England may be harder to convince, and to keep from objecting to future legislation. Here are five suggestions for reaching out to them.

This story, unusually, starts with a poster in a toilet. I was at London’s Frontline Club on Monday, at an event dealing with U.S. foreign policy (an audience with Scott Malcomson promoting Generation’s End: A Personal Memoir of American Power after 9/11 if you’re interested) and saw an out-of-date list of other events on at the venue which included “Should human rights be at the heart of climate change policy? This got me thinking, that inevitably such an event, while no doubt being informative, preaches very much to the converted, as does much of climate change thinking that focuses on human rights and the impact on the world’s poorest. The Guardian newspaper tends to be mocked as read by sandal-wearing, beardy types, so much so that I knew a temporarily unemployed (and decidedly both intelligent and liberal) middle-aged professional who ruled out reading its job section because “The Guardian is for people going nowhere”.

Reaching out to middle England – why it’s different

Sadly, talking about the world’s poorest, human rights, “the environment”, perhaps also peak oil and renewable energy seems to have no impact on a certain section of middle England. There are a number of possible barriers here

  • Belief in climate change
  • Belief that it will affect them and is not just an overhyped concern of the sandal-wearing (or perhaps closet sandal-wearing in the case of the Liberal Democrat leadership)
  • Belief that this is a policy issue worthy of wide interest and concern in the way that education or health is, not a niche concern for a minority of activists

Perhaps needless to say, concerns about fish stocks, colony collapse disorder in beekeeping and many other issues face the same kinds of barriers. The goal for communicators targeting this group should be to neutralise mainstream opposition to climate change legislation. Michael Jacobs, Gordon Brown’s advisior on climate change and energy issues while he was in power, referred in a recent talk (at the LSE hosted by the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy) to the “sphere of relative non-punishment” for government decisions. This is an area in which the public and media tacitly support a policy enough for the government to be able to follow it without any serious attacks.

Following “climategate” and other knocks to the credibility of climate change policy, there is a risk of important legislation sliding out of that category and gathering a vocal lobby of opponents capable of making it harder for the UK government to legislate. The Daily Mail presents such opposition regularly, and recent developments in the U.S. far right suggest a risk of this growing over here as well. This is also about the medium-term battle: so far climate change policy has been slight, low-profile and relatively painless. If the kind of emissions cuts envisioned by Stern and by the government’s legal obligation under the 2008 Climate Change Act (34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050) are to happen, all three of those characteristics may quickly change.

A second goal, of course, is to move the gentle believers into passionate activists, but that’s a question for another time.

FIVE WAYS TO WOO MIDDLE ENGLAND

1. – Conservation

Attenborough: Prepared to stand up for wind-farms

Conservationist feeling tends to come from a very different segment of the population to the typical liberal Guardian reader. I particularly remember this from the diaries of 1980s Conservative minister Alan Clark, who was irritated by a member of his staff talking about human rights (“his Guardianesque obsession”) rather than the British interest on a trade mission, but felt strongly about cruelty to animals and passionate enough about anti-fur legislation to consider resignation from the government when it was blocked by the Prime Minister.  Conservation groups like the RSPB tend to be singing from the same hymn sheet as Friends of the Earth (environmentalist) and Oxfam (development-focused) on this.

At present the middle England conservationist perspective risks being turned against climate change in general by windfarms. A more traditional form of environmentalism, focusing on leaving natural habits untouched and preserving landscapes is pitted against the strands of environmentalism that argue strongly for renewable energy wherever possible. As well as the RSPB’s support of windfarms, David Attenborough, as the popular face of conservation is a potentially powerful force against opposition, having spoken out in favour of a turbine in a local dispute a two years ago.

2. – Hard-nosed Economics

I have written in the past of the inportant influence of the Stern Review in presenting the economic case for climate change. Some have subsequently pointed to the differing conclusions of other economists like Tol and Nordhaus, but these criticisms are deftly dealt with in Stern’s more recent “Blueprint for a Safer Planet“, which allows Stern to demonstate the full range of his intelligence and understanding outside the confines of the more technical report. Experts disagree, of course, that is in many ways their jobs, but attempts to paint Stern as a lightweight or unduly biased by his political mandate should be dismissed as the nonsense they are, and details of argument and counter-argument can be found in this book.

Another aspect of the focus on economics is what I would describe as “industries of the future” rhetoric, drawing on the language and concerns of business and commerce.  and perhaps even fear of losing commercial ground to other countries, as in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times on on China’s growing investment in low-carbon technology. This was highly recommended by an article in The Guardian a little over a year ago, but on reflection this a good step but not the whole story – I strongly suspect that to a certain kind of worldview this kind of rhetoric is dismissed as overly-slick government (or at least “establishment”) rhetoric. Or just as “bullshit”. It tends to come out of the mouths of politicians in the Tony Blair mould (including, in this context,  Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg), all of whom risk seem a bit too polished and media savvy to be trusted when these kinds of optimistic claims are made.

3. – Steal the position of the “grumpy cynic”

Clarkson: Tells us a lot about middle England

Part of the ideological division on climate change may be categorised as the “Monbiot vs. Clarkson” problem. Guardian journalist George Monbiot can be classified as intellectual, globally engaged and interested in liberal concerns like aid, foreign policy and, of course, climate change. One of his most impressive features is his staggering grasp of detail. Jeremy Clarkson, best known as presenter of the BBC’s “Top Gear” on new cars tends to argue from the perspective of middle England, arguing for “common sense” rather than detailed grasp of the facts.

This attitude is described by two major reports on climate change communications, Warm Words and Warm Words II, by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) as “settlerdom”. To quote from their first report:

‘Settlers’ (so-called because they have sustenance driven needs associated with the home) tend to look backwards to yesterday, which was better, and tend to dislike anything new or different as they feel this threatens their identity, belonging, security and safety.

In this context, ‘settlerdom’ rejects and mocks the alarmist discourse – and with it climate change – not through any form of expert discourse or argument but through invoking ‘common sense’. This repertoire constructs itself (in other words, the speaker and implied audience) as ‘the sane majority’ in opposition to ‘the doom-mongers’ or ‘the global warming brigade’ who are ‘keeping us all awake’.

Increasingly, in my experience, that cynicism is shifting to a cynicism towards the sceptics. It is, as I have repeatedly argued, an unfair generalisation to dismiss all disagreement, however moderate and independent, as oil-company-funded lies. It may, however, be a useful generalisation to live with, if every time your grumpy cynic reads piece shedding doubt on climate change, they roll their eyes at them rather than at us. The idea that we’re all doomed due to government incompetence also seems to fit well with the traditional “settler” position. In the aftermath of Copenhagen, there seemed to be a sense of “the bloody government has let us down again”. This kind of attitude may be one that can be capitalised on.

4. – Include the moderate sceptics in the discussion

There is a tendency to vilify all climate change “sceptics” in the left-wing press. An article in The Guardian entitled “Coalition of denial” includes Bjø rn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson, even Freakonomics authors Levitt and Dubner in its list of enemies, contributing to the impression that climate change circles are intolerant and blood spitting. In reality all of the above make it clear that climate change demands government intervention and all propose different policy approaches to do this.

Lomborg: Not as sceptical as the critics claim

Despite this, Lomborg and Lawson in particular have become poster boys for climate change scepticism in the UK, much more so than hardline sceptics like  journalist Christopher Booker and Martin Durkin and the oil companies’ misinformation campaign that plays a big role in providing their information, whether they realise this or not. Lomborg has been accused of a “U-turn” on climate change in his most recent book “Smart Solutions to Climate Change” published earlier this month, arguing in it that climate change is a major problem facing the world. The idea that this is a changed position is obviously nonsense for those who have read his earlier work, which has long held that climate change is a major problem, just badly approached and less so than some claim. Both he and Nigel Lawson not only acknowledge that climate change exists (or at least probably exists in Lawson’s case) and both think it’s serious enough to merit policy action. Rather than demonising them, point out that while they disagree on the severity of climate change risks (an area in which there is wide discussion and disagreement in public and academic circles) they’re having the same conversation. The most high-profile sceptics can be treated as supporting the general conclusions of the consensus. I say “presented”, but this would not be illegitimate spin, it would be the reality of their arguments, detached from the rhetoric that typically surrounds them. Middle England is wary of a unified front of the environmentally friendly – the more we present consensus, the more it looks like there isn’t enough real debate. Such is the paradox of the modern media and its desire to present argument and debate. By acknowleding debate but pointing to areas of agreement, it establishes a baseline of shared understanding.

5. – Assume, assume, assume

This is perhaps the most successful and universally applied strategy to win over those dubious about climate change: assume the major conclusions to be certain. This is a powerful psychological tool, advocated strongly by the aforementioned Warm Words reports and practiced earlier this week when Ed Miliband told the Labour party conference of the need to act on climate change. No debate, no discussion of disagreement – it was presented, as it should be, like just one more policy issue that needs a solution.

The case could be made that this creates a dangerous orthodoxy, but this argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Experts will continue to understand the detail and hold their nuanced positions irrespective of political speeches, newspaper columns or anything else aiming for a more popular audience. Climate change has never suffered from lack of informed debate, but frequently from ill-informed squabbling.

Concluding thoughts

There is a constantly fine balance between explaining seriousness of climate change and appearing alarmist. This demands that we keep our messages serious but not over-serious, and avoid flights of rhetorical fancy that alienate where they should inform and persuade.

It is essential to convince governments to take action on climate change and to provide a show of public support for legislation, but perhaps the most important thing for influencing the public mood is to keep climate change in that “sphere of relative non-punishment” to let policymakers get on with it.

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.

Sir Muir Russel, head of the latest 'climategate' enquiry to report back

On Monday days ago, the IPCC was (mostly) cleared by an enquiry by The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Yesterday ‘climategate’ was (mostly) cleared by the six-month enquiry by civil servant Sir Muir Russell. The arguments over nitty-gritty details and over motives could not be further away from the rhetoric that surrounded the Copenhagen summit, and will undoubtedly surround the Cancun summit at the end of this year.

The evidence of the new ‘climategate’ enquiry was that there was no manipulation of data or abuse of the peer-review process to prevent disagreeing scientific papers from publication. The main complaint was the UEA scientists’ defensive attitude to releasing their data, even when pressed under the Freedom of Information Act. It is clear from the e-mails that they aim mostly to hold off the sceptics by withholding their date to prevent it from being challenged. This is particularly clear in the e-mail published in the Guardian today dealing with Climate Audit, website of climate sceptic Steve MacIntyre. Scientist Phil Jones refers to explaining to ” the F[reedom ]O[f ]I[nformation] person [who] said we had to abide by the requests” why they didn’t want to provide their data , because of “the types of  people we were dealing with”. Without having met or spoken to any of those people I will reserve final judgement, but it sounds suspiciously like the demonisation of the opposition as boogeymen. (By contrast the book dealing with MacIntyre’s perspective of his work, The Hockey Stick Illusion, puts him in a very different light but is less than charitable towards various scientists implicated in ‘climategate’.)

'Hopenhagen' posters like this one by Joachim Ladefoged were on display in the run-up to the conference, adding to the mood of high expectations and high drama

Unfortunately for those of us in favour of major climate change mitigation, this discussion coincided with the Copenhagen summit. While a certain amount of gory detail crept out into some of the papers, there was a buzz of enough high rhetoric to make anyone with even a slight streak of cynicism reach for the bottle (or, in my case, the biscuit bag). We had the Mayor of Copenhagen calling for “Hopenhagen”, we had interviews with protesters talking about “saving the planet” (it’s still going to be there guys – we just might not be able to live on it) and the TckTckTck campaign film short showing us suspiciously environmentally aware children promising to change make a difference (unsurprisingly attracting accusations of brainwashing by YouTube commenters). There were liberal references to children, grandchildren, and children’s children, who are like grandchildren but more profound.

One would be forgiven for a certain cynicism at seeing Coca-Cola's 'Hopenhagen' advertising campaign

Do I disagree with the arguments of these many voices? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t take much to bring that kind of rhetoric down to earth when the difference in style and in substance between the passionate campaigners and the gory details is so pronounced.

The job of those involved in communicating climate change is to plug that mid-level gap between the four ‘climategate’ enquiries and the high-flown rhetoric of campaigners. For a start, let’s hear:

1. Why ‘climategate’ doesn’t matter on the scale of the whole science of climate change. Three or so main points, lots of evidence please

2. What the specific threats to society are from runaway climate change. Economic statistics please, not just more and more dramatic adjectives

3. Why that uncertainty is not a reason for inaction (the phrases you’re looking for may include tipping points, the precautionary principle and risk management)

Dramatic campaigns do an important job, but they are not enough to get your message across. They do well at getting the main message out “We need a treaty to save the world from climate change”. Someone needs to follow on with the sentence that comes after that, and all the rest that follow on.

One of Greenpeace's Copenhagen Posters

(Note: it is often pointed out that the precautionary principle is only used as a reason to act, never a reason not to act to safeguard economic growth. My answers to this are

  1. Tipping points – beyond largely unknown points the costs of climate change will suddenly skyrocket in ways some economic analyses may not recognise
  2. Irreversibility – if the Greenland ice sheet melts, a species dies out or the upper ocean warms enough to increase the likelihood of hurricanes. If a factory is not built, or even a hospital a road to provide key food supplies to a starving community, that can be built the next year. The impacts of climate change happen over a longer timescale

This is not to say that economic growth and other social objectives don’t matter. They do, and of course we must recognise the need to balance of mitigation costs and benefits. But that is why the precautionary principle applies mostly the one way.)

Thanks to the Bernstein & Andriulli blog for information on the ‘Hopenhagen’ adverts.

Review: Information is Beautiful, David McCandless, 2009, published by Collins

Information is Beautiful - visually stunning and a page turner

With 255 pages of diagrams and graphs, including a table of interesting facts about dictators wives (Milosevic met his when she borrowed his library card at school) “Information is Beautiful” by David McCandless is a tribute to the effectiveness of good design and to how interesting raw information is if accessibly presented. I have already lost two friends and a girlfriend  for hours each in this, the consummate coffee-table book, by just showing it to them. It is the consumation of a wider project of making information accessible with graphs and bright colours continued by the associated website, http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/, along with a blog and a facebook group. Particularly interesting is McCandless’s willingness to do graphic design in real-time as facts come out, as he did for the recent UK emergency budget (here).

In the book the miscellany of facts on climate change, shown in colourful visual form, include how individual lifestyle choices can affect carbon emissions on a daily basis (the difference between a thermostat on 24 degrees and on 25 degrees, or between snacking on strawberries or on apples), which countries have kept to and overshot their Kyoto targets and by how much and how far above the current sea-level various cities are. It also has one of the clearest lists of climate sceptic vs. climate consensus arguments present on a concise four-page spread, also available online here.

Its environmental credentials on other issues are also impressive, detailing fish stocks, remaining supplies of key metals and their uses and the extent of recent Amazon dieback.

Images of polar bears are among the more controversial in climate change arguments

One of the problems of communication climate change, undoubtedly like many other issues, is that it aspects are fundamentally technical and therefore somewhat inaccessable. Up to a point one can point to pictures of melting glaciers and polar bears, but the attempt to make climate change easier to understand is caught between the rock of physical science and the hard place of economics, not to mention Kyoto targets, relative emission levels of different countries, per capita emission levels, projected population growth etc. etc.

It is also interesting that climate change has reached the level of popular awareness that it features in passing in so many books not specifically related to global warming, oil supplies or environmental degradation like this, providing tiny windows on the discussion rather than throwing open their doors to the whole topic as many of the major books do. It demonstrates that climate change discussion has become so ubiquitous now, it can be treated (as is the central argument of Mike Hulme’s “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”) as a cultural phenomenon rather than a purely scientific problem.

No doubt the figures are open to scrutiny by intrepid analysts, but as far as making information accessible goes, this book is well ahead of the curve. This kind of design is one to watch for those wanting to get the detail of their message out for the masses, not just the nerds.

Information overload: a risk for activists (image from http://medicblog999.wordpress.com/)

In a recent post I discussed whether climate change should be discussed in relation to the ecological limits to growth (here). I argued then that although public discourse is not ready for too much discussion of that particular issue, it must be quietly phased in. There is, however, the wider issue of the risks of discussing climate change alongside other issues at all.

At the (wittily entitled) seminar “A little less Copenhagen, a little more action – tackling the obstacles to climate justice” at the Compass conference, a representative for Friends of the Earth said it was key to get issues connected in the public consciousness: gender, equality, poverty, development and environmental issues.

Problem 1

I have mixed feelings about this argument. In the first place, there’s a real risk that for anyone who doesn’t put a great deal of time and effort into understanding the relevant issues, they slide together into one great humanitarian-disaster-mush. While it is absolutely right for groups like Friends of the Earth and Oxfam to engage with these various and genuinely interlinked issues (Friends of the Earth engaging with the humanitarian side of their core environmental issues and Oxfam engaging with the environmental causes of their core development issues), they become increasingly daunting and even off-putting.

Problem 2

The UK Green Party: risking binding climate change to the political left

The second issue is that climate change runs the risk of becoming an issue of certain political forces if placed alongside other issues. Groups that campaign for on climate change frequently have a strong left-wing bias. The UK Green party, who are (unsurprisingly) very strong on Climate Change issues is a case in point. Among their policy positions are a strong scepticism of free trade and globalisation, a radically higher minimum wage and support for a “robin hood tax” on financial transactions (see pages 46, 11 and 47 of their manifesto respectively, available from their website here). I am personally quite sympathetic to all of these policies and do not mean give the impression these views are illegitimate, but they are unattractive to the huge body of centre-right figures who arguably voted the British Conservative Party the largest number of seats in the current parliament.

The starkly economic warning of the Stern Review put climate change in terms that make it an issue no longer reserved for lefties and bleeding heart liberals (like me, dear reader), but aligning it with everything else could jeopardise that and draw suspicion from political enemies.

Hansen: politicisng the science more than he should?

On a similar note, NASA’s Jim Hansen is a leading climate scientist but also a highly politicised figure has drawn criticism for his outspoken views, especially his criticism of cap-and-trade systems. This was particularly pronounced after his arrest for activism against the burning of coal (see news coverage here), and it is not hard to see why, when the scientists are also activists for specific political causes that their scientific expertise does not obviously extend to, their scientific claims may draw suspicion. Far be it from a serious blogger to reference Wikipedia, put it has a very strong section on Hansen and “Controversies”.

Conclusions

After my (slight) U-turn on my views on BP’s media management, I should be clear that I’m not backtracking from my last article saying climate change should not be linked to any other issues in explanations given and narratives established by climate change campaigners and other interested actors. What I will say is this:

  1. Decide on the key issues to link climate change to. Don’t tell us climate change is linked to every other social issue under the sun. Not even when it is true. There is only so much information people can take in.
  2. Establish clear, simple arguments. “To mitigate climate change we need X, Y and Z”. “Climate Change is a symptom of BLAH”.
  3. Say them again and again. Preferably using the same words. Where possible, set up broad coalitions of actors to say them.
  4. Avoid left-wing rhetoric. References to “inequality”, attacks on “global capitalism” (or any other kind of capitalism) and “neoliberalism”, attacks on the rich and discussions of globalisation and world trading systems should not be avoided altogether – these are important and relevant issues. But be wary of using them too liberally and in every context.

An example of good message management is the line we hear time and again from campaigners: “climate change will hit the poorest first.” While perhaps a little left-leaning, it doesn’t smack of marxist rhetoric. Think about the Live 8 statement: “a child dies every five seconds”. It was repeated so much it annoyed even many of the more sympathetic of us by the end, but it was memorable.

Climate change does need to be seen in wider contexts. The public are busy people, however. Be wary of information overload, and be wary of losing your centre-right audience.