Environment

Broadening the Climate Coalition

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAug 10, 2011 4:46 PM

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David Roberts of Grist is determined to puzzle out the obstacles to action on climate change. Last week, he argued that a fierce column of hairy-chested conservative white men (CWM) blocked the path to victory. If climate activists wanted to win the war against climate "deniers" (the rationale being that "deniers" are the main impediment to political action and wider public acceptance of man-made climate change), then climate concerned folk needed to stop acting like a wimpy 97 pound weakling.

It's the Charles Atlas theory of climate action. Time to man up, advises Roberts, and take on the brawny (CWM) bully. Or, following Roberts' logic, here's another way to put it, also courtesy of the famous muscleman.

The Charles Atlas climate action plan would put some steel in the spine of the climate concerned community, so they could at least breathe fire at the "deniers," like Roberts does here:

For my part, when I see people denying facts and bullying scientists in order perpetuate the dominance of fossil fuel interests that are killing people and threatening my children's futures, I am inclined to tell them to go f*ck themselves. That won't resonate with their social/tribal perspectives, but that's because I find their social/tribal perspectives repugnant and worthy of social censure. I want to beat them.

This week, Roberts has a different approach that doesn't involve stamping out "deniers." It's somewhat similar to the U.S. military's "soft power" counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the goal of which is to win the "hearts and minds" of the clannish, battle-weary Afghan population. (It's not worked out so well, but that's another story.) The analogy is imperfect, but here is the crux of what I would consider the soft power approach to winning over climate fence-sitters, according to Roberts:

One thing that changes people's minds is receiving signals that trusted people and institutions are in agreement on an issue, that it's no longer contested, that it's socially "safe" to accept it. This is why the right's strategy has been so brilliant -- they haven't convinced the public that climate is a hoax, they've just managed to maintain the impression that it's contested, controversial.

Good idea, but unfortunately it's based on a faulty premise (that the broader public still sees climate change as contested). In fact, Roberts himself seems to have forgotten what he wrote last week:

The poll numbers are consistently on climate hawks' side, but their support is shallow and fickle.

Now that much is true, and the rest of Roberts' argument in his latest post, which suggests "bringing in nonpartisan voices" and widening the circle of communicators "beyond climate scientists and leftie activists," strikes me as a winning strategy. It's that sort of coalition-building that broadened the Civil Rights movement to all sectors of society. Again, an imperfect analogy, but Roberts and others have argued that there is a moral imperative to climate change. If so, then you make it on the merits of your case, not by throwing sand back at your opponents.

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