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An Enviro War Room

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorDecember 4, 2009 12:00 AM


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That's what Geoffrey Lean suggests is needed to counter what he calls the "swiftboating" of climate science in the wake of Climategate. He argues that "environmentalists must bear a fair share of the responsibility" for the rising number of people who don't believe in global warming (according to recent polls). He partly blames the "backlash" on Al Gore's Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, because of "the film's polemicism and exaggerations." But Lean also argues:

Environmental groups, once brilliant at swaying public opinion, have lost their touch. They have progressively become part of the establishment, while the skeptics have taken the insurgent role that environmentalists once exploited so well. As they became more and more involved in the process of formulating agreements and legislation to tackle global warming, talking to governments and attending negotiating conferences, leaders of the environmental movement have increasingly appeared to take public opinion for granted.

The problem with Lean's logic is in that first sentence: environmental groups were "once brilliant at swaying public opinion" precisely because of scare tactics that prophesized eco-doom if immediate attention wasn't paid to the environment. Exaggeration was enviro stock in trade. That was how mainstream green groups like the Sierra Club traditionally swelled membership rolls, by selling imminent eco-collapse. And you know what, when a river catches on fire and oil is spilled off the coast of Santa Barbara and industrial toxic waste is leaching into groundwater, that doom and gloom campaign sells itself for a few years. After all, you can see the unfolding disaster yourself. It's visceral. But after a while, thanks to this green awakening in the public body, which spurs reform and new oversight institutions, the environment improves and not every new disaster suddenly feels like the end of the world. But to keep those membership rolls inflated, green groups stayed with that numbing narrative of eco-catastrophe. At some point (early 1990s?), Americans became inured to the bad news drumbeat, be it about endangered species, old growth forests, or industrial runoff pollution. There's reasonable speculation by social scientists that the same thing might be happening again with respect to the incessant scaremongering by climate change advocates. So is Lean suggesting that Greens go back to those old tactics and double down on scaring the besjesus out of everyone? I don't know. He just says Greens need to get a War Room so the planet doesn't end up like John Kerry's 2004 Presidential campaign.

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