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9. CLIMATE VIOLENCE

WINNING LANGUAGE ON CLIMATE written by Annie Leonard

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Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
9. CLIMATE VIOLENCE

WINNING LANGUAGE ON CLIMATE

Annie Leonard

I actually have some really good news about climate: it’s not too late and leadership on climate—if it is done well—can be an electoral winner.

We are in a very different place than we were even five years ago on climate—both in terms of the physical reality and in terms of public opinion. On the physical reality front, in terms of the actual world, we are dangerously close to tipping points where we will cross limits that are going to be impossible to recover from. We are entering a period in which humans have no experience and are poorly equipped for the extreme impacts that are already descending upon us—impacts on health, on the economy, on security. It’s truly an emergency.

It is important to not just tell people about your problem, because everyone has their own problems. But climate change is more and more becoming everyone’s problem. Last year, one in three people experienced an extreme weather event, and we’re on track for it to be much higher this year. Last week, I was visiting a friend in Sonoma, and I parked and went inside, and he actually came outside and turned my car around so it was facing out. And I asked him, “What are you doing?” And he just said casually, “Oh, we always park facing out now, in case we have to flee.”

Our reality now in California is that we are constantly ready to flee. And it’s comparable everywhere in different forms, and getting worse. That’s why we are seeing huge change in the public perception—viz., a majority of people in the U.S. are concerned about climate change and want action from elected leaders. The gap now is between where the science is, where the public is, and where the elected leaders ar

Based on our research, here is the best clear language on climate violence to close the gap. “Ninety-nine percent of climate scientists are convinced that carbon pollution is heating our planet, threatening our health, safety, economy and security…Industry has created a blanket of pollution around the earth that traps heat and is dangerously heating the planet. The good news is we know how to solve this—by switching to cleaner and cheaper energy.”

Best words to use: ”pollution” or “carbon pollution” (not “emissions”), “heating” (not “warming”), “industrial activity” (more so than “we” or “humans”).

And here are the strongest three “messages” to shift the debate.

Message 1: Investing in a clean economy creates jobs now.

The counterargument that fighting climate change will cost jobs is wrong and needs to be repositioned as both holding back innovation and growth, and threatening the health and safety of all Americans. But we shouldn’t say “fighting climate change doesn’t kill jobs,” which subconsciously puts the false argument in people’s heads. Rather, we should say this assertion is the key to America’s future and an opportunity we can’t miss. We should name specific new jobs and who will get them. For example:
  • * “There are millions of EVs to be built. I want to build them in Ohio.”
  • * “American workers should be building the industries of the future, owning the clean, renewable energy and car markets. Why let China get an insurmountable lead?”
  • * “Inaction on climate change is damaging the economy with extreme weather.”
Best words to use: “good jobs” (name them), “innovation,” “prosperity,” “American manufacturing.”

Message 2: Investing in a clean economy saves families money.

Americans are being told that clean energy is expensive. In reality, it has become significantly cheaper in the last decade (solar prices are down 90 percent), yet fewer than one in five people know this. Clean energy is now often cheaper than fossil fuels. This is the most persuasive argument for building clean infrastructure because it affects every family. Hence: “Clean, renewable energy is not only healthier, it is now cheaper than fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. Solar and wind are now the cheapest sources of energy. They will never run out and will only get cheaper. This switch saves everyone money, forever.”

Best words: Couple “cleaner” with “cheaper” every time.

Message 3: Big polluters are the enemy, not climate change.

We need to move from “fighting climate change” to “fighting the polluters who are causing climate change.” This is consistently the most effective message in our research. We need to create sides: you are either anti-pollution or pro-pollution. Nine out of ten Americans agree that polluters should pay for their pollution. Dirty industries are un-American and unjust, and frontline communities and people of color and rural communities are the ones who suffer the most.

We should frame those standing in the way as “pro-pollution” candidates, politicians, and organizations. Best words: “Climate change is caused by pollution, plain and simple. Big polluters hurt our economy, health, and communities. They need to be held accountable for this damage. Big polluters are the elite few protecting their profits over the health and safety of all American families.”

Best words: the “pro-pollution lobby,” “big pollution,” “make polluters pay.”

Here’s our strongest sequence of thoughts and words: Burning fossil fuels is creating a pollution blanket around the earth that is trapping heat in our atmosphere that would otherwise go back to space. That trapped heat causes stronger storms and downpours that wipe out farmers’ crops and lead to food shortages. It means hotter temperatures that fuel wildfires and cause crippling heat waves, where our kids can’t play outside. It causes Arctic ice to melt, raising the sea level and causing millions of American homes to flood every year.

So in sum: This tested, simple language and imagery should be repeated, repeated, repeated every time climate is discussed with the public. Doing so will change the opinion playing field to win. With the bully pulpit, the issue can be simplified and explained in a way that significantly grows support.

CLIMATE NOTES
  • * Columnist Greg Sargent: Now that Dems have enacted its big climate bill, “they have unilaterally launched the biggest response to our planetary emergency in U.S. history, without the participation of a single Republican.”
  • * The SEC in March required public companies to disclose climate related risks. And those that have made public pledges to reduce their carbon footprint will need to detail how they will do that. (The U.K. and Japan are also doing it.)
  • * Bill McKibben: “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels helps clean the planet, adds to our wallets, and undermines the power of dictators and thugs.”
  • * When discussing climate violence, federal spending or tax credits should be described as investments that create the opportunity for millions of new jobs while protecting our health. If you care about justice, our children’s future or the stock market – whether you live in a big city or a rural area—you should demand renewable energy NOW…at speed and scale. Demand an end to coal-fired power. Demand an end to all fossil-fuel subsidies.
  • * Most of the obstacles to decarbonization are not technological but political.


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