You’re leading a group of plane crash survivors across the Andes Mountains. You know that civilization lies in the direction of the setting sun. But discord and delusion begin to spread among your cohorts.
“Let’s just stay put,” the weak-minded tell the others. First, they whisper. Then, as their negativity takes hold, they get bolder. “She’s only trying to get us to go over that next ridge because she wants to kill us.” What do you tell the group?
1) That’s a lie! These people are fanatics. Don’t listen.
2) If we stay here, we die. Do you want to be responsible for killing us?
3) Look, everyone gather ’round. Now, let me explain to all of you the trajectory of the sun during this particular season in the equatorial regions of Earth, and why I believe that odds are we’re headed toward the roads that I saw while studying the landscape out of the plane’s window and calibrating those roads onto the topographical map I had before we crashed. I believe those roads may be over that ridge, although there’s a small chance that they’re over the next ridge, and a yet smaller chance that they’re in an entirely different direction. But all probabilities point to the likelihood that this is the correct direction.
4) Just over that ridge are your loved ones! You know that is true. They are there right now, searching for us. Don’t give up! Don’t lose faith! It will be a difficult trek. But we are in this together: It will be the defining moment of our lives. The sooner we move, the closer we are to salvation -- to a clean bath, hot food and the warm embrace of our families. Let’s go now!
As a key Senate committee finally turns -- maybe, if it’s not too difficult -- to the climate change debate, the real question is whether the American people will demand action. And the tactical challenge for those trying to convince us to demand action will be to overcome a sophisticated, powerful campaign of denial.
My impulsive response to the deniers is moral outrage. Like Charlton Heston coming off Mount Sinai, I want to expose them for what they are. I want to throw the book at them.
There are two problems with moral outrage, however. The first is that nobody likes to be scolded.
The second is that discord is exactly what the marketing geniuses down at Dr. Evil’s headquarters want us to engage in. It’s an old propaganda tactic: Get everyone lost in a maze of accusations and counterattacks; make climate change seem “controversial” and “disputed,” rather than as real as rising sea levels and dying polar bears. As long as we’re in that maze, motivating everyone to act together will be nearly impossible.
Then, there’s answer No. 2: The heavy approach. Our way of life will perish if we stay here.
There’s some truth to that warning. If anything, recent climate studies have pointed to things getting worse more quickly than anticipated. And the prospect of climate change setting off a chaotic cascade of unforeseeable calamities is particularly scary.
There’s also a lot of art to be found in angst. One of the most powerful -- and creepiest -- climate change ads I’ve seen is this animated story produced by the French group Quercus.
Approach No. 3: Cold, hard science in all its complexities might help get people to go over the next ridge, if it’s communicated well enough. An Inconvenient Truth, which was both straightforward and slick, surely shifted some minds and gave pop culture a reality check.
But the audience that will be swayed by science probably already has been swayed. When confronted with careful recitation of all the facts, many folks are likely to turn away and take very different action.
climate change campaigns should avoid being “miserable, gloomy and bleak,” despite the serious nature of the issue, instead emphasizing that taking action is "normal" and "encouraging engagement". The research also showed that ad campaigns need to show fairness, meaning that government and industry also need to "do their bit", and be personally relevant by relating directly to the environment U.K. citizens live in. Ad campaigns should also identify opportunities for people to take action.
But the findings of “Selling Sustainability” are just as relevant for us. A message of hope is needed -- and it seems to me that there is an especially strong message of hope for Americans. It lies in our self-image as a nation of problem solvers, of people who embrace change and new technology, who turn problems into opportunities. It lies in the promise of a green economy.
We’ve seen elements of that message in ad campaigns by green collar/blue collar coalitions -- unions and business leaders working with environmental groups.
At its root, however, the message must be about hope and opportunity. It must be the kind of message that moves people off the floor, up from their armchairs and out the door -- ready for action.