Note from Karl: There are two sides to the climate movement. One rightfully wants people to understand the serious and devastating impacts of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions, and to make the biggest polluters help pay for those most affected by climate change. Let's call that the stick approach. Another side wants to take the carrot approach, helping companies understand how environmental responsibility can help the bottom line. In my view both are essential, if not critical to sustaining a life worth living on our increasingly hot and crowded planet. Here Michael Meehan of the software company ENXSuite talks about the challenges facing the climate movement and how his company is hoping to help.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (aka, FUD) is a common sales technique in the tech industry. Made (in)famous by Microsoft’s tactics against open source in the early days of Unix, FUD is most often used to convince your prospect (or entire target audience) that your competitor has hidden issues that make it a poor choice. For instance, Microsoft used to claim that open source may be free, but unseen support costs will bury you over time — which can be true, but it is also true of any infrastructure technology —including Microsoft. In the startup world, FUD is usually delivered in conversational mode, where concepts like financial viability, executive turnover, and other common startup issues are brought up in a competitive situation in an attempt to undermine competitors.

The point of putting FUD into the market is so a target customer chooses your product over a competitor’s. The nature of FUD is that it is often not based on actual facts; it cherry-picks information to support the theory that your competition is not up to the task. When FUD works, it’s usually because you’ve been able to choose the right information to create a hot-button issue in the client — even if no such issue existed before. But what often happens is that nobody wins; a customer becomes confused or wary of the entire product segment and simply switches off. This “customer apathy” and is the primary risk of using FUD tactics in the sales process. In the end, too much FUD can be bad for early markets.

Climate change is also an early market. While FUD is a well-known tactic in the tech business, it is now being used to undermine solid science in climate change. Several groups all over the world (but especially here in the U.S.) are using this strategy to call into question the authority of experts. In fact, the word “expert” has acquired a negative connotation in some circles and people are becoming more distrustful of science. This is a dangerous trend because there is more at stake here than a simple purchasing decision; it’s an issue that affects our very future. To remove our trust from science without an appropriate place to put it is not a sound strategy.


At the risk of sounding opportunistic, this year should have been the year for the advancement of the climate change agenda. Extreme weather threatens Pakistan. Studies on climate refugees estimate that more than 50 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2011, increasing to more than 1 billion by 2020. And still, in America, climate change denial is on the increase in the GOP. Climate FUD is at an all-time high against climate change, but it’s not clear what the other “competitive option” is.

The problem is that we haven’t put our trust elsewhere — we have simply switched off. A recent article in Fast Company illuminated me to a fact that I have suspected for some time. The survey suggests that no matter what happens, climate change skeptics will simply not change their minds, regardless of the consequences. Is sounds a bit alarmist, but the survey the magazine commissioned outlines a study that offered climate change skeptics different scenarios like “if the polar ice cap melted, would you then believe in global warming?” (15 percent said yes), or if the people of Samoa had to relocate because their island sunk below a rising ocean (0.06 percent said yes), or — and this is an actual question — if your kids could no longer go outside, would you then believe in climate change? A whopping 15 percent said they would then change their minds. Let’s be clear: 85 percent of the respondents said they wouldn’t change their minds about climate change if their kids had to remain inside for the rest of their lives.

That’s the one that got me. If the climate has become so bad that a climate skeptic’s kids can’t go outside and they will still not believe in global warming, then we simply aren’t dealing on a level playing field. This made me realize that we are now at an impasse and are not talking on the same level. We need to change our tactic because the Climate FUD approach employed in the U.S. has led to “customer apathy”, where nothing you can say or do will get them interested, even an issue that impacts them at a very personal level.

Put in this context, what looks like sheer insanity looks more like a basic FUD strategy gone wrong, a common occurrence in the business sector. So, how to you combat Climate FUD?

Find out on Cleantech Ink. If you want to learn more about Meehan's company, check out ENXSuite.

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