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What Climate Communication Sorely Lacks

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorDecember 22, 2011 1:34 AM


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My latest post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media asks if the ratcheting up of climate fear will grab hold of a public already numb to such appeals. I think David Roberts at Grist makes a strong case for how it can work, but it rests on this assumption:

what drives social change and shifts politics is not broad-based support but intensity. An intensely committed minority can act as a lever that moves larger populations.

In fairness to Roberts, he also says that "activism, protest, and agitation," hallmarks of a committed movement, along with continued warnings of imminent climate catastrophe, need not

be seen as an alternative to pragmatic, incremental process pushed by moderate insiders. They are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they ought to be mutually reinforcing.

The problem with even this multi-pronged approach is that there are no overarching values defined, which, to me, seems the only way you can expand beyond your "committed minority." As one commenter ("grypo") observes over at the Planet 3.0 site:

This is what the climate movement is missing. There is no core set of values that gets moved to the front of the movement that excites people. I can say the same for the issue of sustainability. What we do instead, is try the climate hawk approach, where we work within the value system of the establishment. We even bend over backwards to make rational economic arguments that don't solve the main issues. For the Grist approach to work, this all must end. We need to attach the risk of future climate change and sustainability to a value system, and not the one that serves established politics. Ultimately, these issues revolve around human connection, social contracts, and the power of people working together to fix shit.

Roberts, in his post, refers to how American conservatives, over the last few decades, have moved narrow, minority held views (such as supply side economics) into the Republican mainstream. He points out that they've achieved this with relentless organization and advocacy. But he fails to mention the cultural values underlying these attitudinal shifts of the Republican party, and how these values have been powerfully framed (subsequently catching on as motivating force) and successfully wedded to policy positions. So what are the values the climate movement wants audiences to embrace? I submit that avoiding climate doom won't suffice. In my Yale Forum piece, I suggest that whatever values are formed, they ought to be able to strike a chord with people holding different worldviews.

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