Climate Messaging Meltdown

Those advocating quick and robust action to fight climate change have never been the most adept at communicating their message. From careless and aggressive social media messages (‘We know where you live. And we be many but you be few… ‘) to the No Pressure video blowing up schoolchildren, climate activists seem intent on ignoring the effective environmental messaging of previous decades.

It may have reached a new low recently. Bill McKibben, founder and former head of, recently called President Obama a ‘denier‘, equating him with Holocaust deniers (and me too, apparently). Considering all that Obama has done to further the cause of combating climate change–and considering the post he holds–it qualifies as perhaps the Stupidest Climate Message in history.

It is a Messaging Meltdown.


Andrew Revkin is that rare breed of journalist who can tell readers about his beliefs and still cover his beat dispassionately and fairly. He really is a throwback to the days when journalism attracted high quality minds and writers. He is passionate about the environment and firmly committed to fighting climate change. And yet Greg Laden  has attacked Revkin for essentially collaborating with ‘the enemy’, or as other, saner people would put it, doing his job. Revkin not only converses with contrarians without screaming ‘denier’ at them, he actually (gasp) allows people with different views to… comment… on… his… blog! As that is basically unknown in the activist section of the blogosphere, we can understand Laden’s shock.  (One of the crippling features of climate messaging is the fact that it never passes through the edifying crucible of debate, a conscious decision made by, well, the people contributing to this Meltdown, and so activist arguments are never sharpened by encountering the opposition–which is why skeptics and even lukewarmers just take the activists’ lunch money on the rare occasions that they do face off in a public forum.)

The writers of the recent EcoModernist manifesto are now being attacked by the activist  Eli Rabett who, failing to find anything concrete in the Manifesto to object to, managed to create out of thin air a Manichean Manifesto desire to drive towards Marxist Industrial policy (or is it Industrial Marxist policy?), saying that when the Manifesto notes that people are moving into big cities they are implicitly accepting that some big cities have authoritarian central control mechanisms.

That’s a typical Klimate Konsensus ploy:

EcoMod: “I note that this trend is occurring. If it continues it will lessen human impact on the planet.”

KK: “I say this trend leads to more central control and less freedom. No, I don’t have evidence past Singapore and no, I won’t look at places like London or Rio de Janeiro where the opposite is the case.”

KK: “I have conclusively proved that EcoMods are out to take away your freedom! They are Maaarrrxxxxists! Maaarrrxxxxists! Maaarrrxxxxists!”

Not coincidentally, all of those guilty of this type of messaging also write long screeds bemoaning and bewailing the inability of the public to react appropriately to their messaging.

Imagine that.


36 responses to “Climate Messaging Meltdown

  1. I don’t think I have read anything nuttier than the Breakthrough Institute=Marxists stuff from Rabbitt.

  2. Which is actually saying something as Rabett gets pretty loony.

  3. By a strange coincidence, Climategate emails exposed the REALITY world and religious leaders had hidden from the public for 500 years:

    Perhaps, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous!”

  4. Regarding Laden vs Revkin, I think Greg goes too far, but Revkin epitomizes the failure of journalism to distinguish between the necessity of factual information on one hand and the complexity of opinion on the other. My complaints about that problem are central to what I want to do as a communicator.

    Eli, as usual, needs to be understood before he’s criticized. Worth following up but as usual I’m behind on writing my thoughts. But his audience is rarefied and he porbably doesn’t represent an important factor in what is usually called public communication.

    McKibben’s point is worth considering: “This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children. They just deny the meaning of the science, which is that we must keep carbon in the ground.”

    Now if you think that only Nazis and crypto-nazis are capable of denial, that’s a bad communication message, but I think it’s crazy to allow your enemies to define the language that you are using to express real concept.

    Does that mean I agree with McKibben? Well, I think there is a real quantitative issue here. Nobody suggests we can give up on liquid fuels overnight, and everybody agrees that some damage results. So there’s a triage issue. Which is to say that he might be wrong about this. I’d like to see a holistic argument, not just an intuitive one. I’m not convinced.

    Is it bad communication, though? No, I’m not convinced of that either. It makes the point it needs to make, which is that there are multiple levels of denial, and that this is one of them. I’m not sure it is, and I’m not sure it isn’t. Somebody has to crunch the numbers.

    Of course the No Pressure video was a terrible idea, but that’s because it is a complex mockery of one’s opponents view of one’s own position, which is a tricky business, as well as being in dreadful taste. I’m sure there was much giggling during the conceptualizing and filming of that fiasco. But seeing it as an explicit threat actually reinforces the badly made point.

    It certainly was a communication fiasco, but it’s a big world and not everybody will get everything right.

    Overall, I don’t see these as part of a pattern. There have certainly been communication failures.

    But these are big issues and we can’t be cornered into using small language for them; if we eschew big language and leave the story to occasional appearances on page 17, the ecomodernist point of view like every other will not have much influence over the status quo. It’s a huge problem, and we have to treat it as such.

    • So it is all about massaging the message?
      I think that the lack of evidence would have something to do with the lack of effectiveness of the messaging, no matter how delightfully massaged the message may be.
      The thing that makes the climate obsessed crazy is that climate is not a big issue. CO2 is not *the* control knob, we are *not* experiencing dangerous rapid or unusual climate change, We *are* tired of extremist ideologues pretending things are terrible. We *are* tired of the profiteering that occurs in the name of climate obsession.

      • CO2 *is* the *dominant* control knob on many time scales and many circumstances, including the ones of immediate interest; though certainly not the only one.

        We *are* experiencing rapid and unusual climate change.

        Arguably it isn’t dangerous yet, but it seems very unlikely that anything like the climate of the past 7000 years will ever return and we are getting farther and farther from that state every year.

        There’s a whole *lot* of evidence behind those claims, though not suitable for a comment thread. You might have heard of IPCC?

      • No, CO2 has not been demonstrated to the be the significant control knob, since it lags, in each and every core, warming.
        No, there is no rapid or unusual warming, drought, storm, flooding slr, happening, no matter how hard the anthropomorphic obsession wishes.
        No, there is no clear evidence supporting a climate catastrophe, no matter how hard your faith leads you to beleive otherwise.

    • So denialism and the attendant insinuation that they are equivalent to Holocaust Deniers has nothing to do with the science. It is only a failure to accept your policy prescriptions that qualifies someone as a denier.

      Got it.

    • You want to be a communicator–let’s look at what you are communicating:

      You admit Laden ‘went too far,’ but you show an appalling ignorance of the basic functions of journalism in your condemnation of Revkin. It is not his job to act as propagandist on behalf of those who choose to base their belief system on what are increasingly being recognized as outlier positions on things like atmospheric sensitivity. The fact that you have tried and failed to cut off debate does not mean that he should join you in your conspiracy of silence.

      You say that Rabett needs to be understood. No, Rabett needs help. Writers are judged on what they write, not on what you have gleaned of their personal problems and social context. He writes nasty,small-souled drivel. And you want to be a communicator.

      You cannot bring yourself to see the obvious about McKibben. You have no idea of the damage his statement does to your cause and you want to be a communicator.

      You really have no idea at all of why the No Pressure video is so damaging and you want to be a communicator.

      At last though we can all agree that your moral position is not based on acceptance or lack thereof of science–it is only adherence to your sheaf of policy positions. So it’s not about radiative transfer theory or anything like that. It’s about blind acceptance of the pronouncements ’emitting CO2 is the same as mugging old ladies’ and ‘the only metric that matters is how much fossil fuels we leave in the ground.’

      You are in the process of convincing me that I am actually a denier after all, if that’s what denier means.

      • It’s perfectly obvious why the blazingly idiotic and repulsive No Pressure video is a communications disaster, but it may not be obvious to some what they THOUGHT they were doing.

      • The only policy position that I publicly hold unconditionally is that net carbon emissions must cease as soon as possible. There is no “sheaf”.

        I do not believe that the press is obligated to hold that position. But I believe they are obligated to convey the factual information on which that opinion is based.

        What Revkin and his like egregiously fail to do, in my opinion, has **nothing to do with policy**. They fail to communicate the balance of evidence. And they are in some sense culpable for the policy catastrophe.

      • To demand “net Carbon emissions cease immediately” is to demonstrate a deep break from reality bordering on psychotic.

      • But when you say that CO2 emissions must cease as soon as possible you are actually doing what you accuse Revkin of doing–failing to communicate the balance of evidence.

        You don’t quantify anything with that statement. You don’t define ‘as soon as possible.’ You don’t offer a mechanism for achieving your policy aim. You don’t tell us ‘this is what will probably happen if we achieve my policy goal’ nor do you tell us ‘this is what will probably happen if we fail to achieve my policy goal.’ As you have publicly and repeatedly rejected the IPCC’s WG2 and WG3 documents, it is incumbent upon you to offer your own vision of the future for both forks of the road.

        But you don’t. You just moan about the people who don’t intuitively grasp the rightness of your vision and do the work for you.

      • Tom, as a recent exile from the Catholic Church I am very sensitive to those operating on revealed knowledge. MT represents an extreme case of revelation.

      • I note that at your weblog you have deleted half a thread including my comments.

        You will someday have to decide whether you want to be a ‘communicator’ or a ‘conveyor of messages.’

        It annoys me that you would prefer to delete a thread rather than admit that your arguments did not carry the day. I actually spend time and thought on the comments you have deleted. But you have form with this–you have done it before. Heck, you have deleted entire posts rather than admit your arguments did not carry the day.

        Perhaps you need better arguments.

      • Let me amend “as soon as possible” to “as soon as economically feasible”, which is what I should have said. Of course I should have expected uncharitable reading around here. Silly me.

      • You delete my comments without warning. My comments were polite and on point. You offer no explanation.

        You ask for charity.

        Perhaps you forget the charity you showed me in the past, when you labeled me stupid, incapable of understanding the science, pulling things out of my… hat… and calling me a denier.

        You seem to think that you deserve special consideration and that your rudeness and lies should just be forgotten.

      • “I note that at your weblog you have deleted half a thread including my comments.”

        You ought to be grateful.

        Among the deleted items is Willard’s damning quote of a comment you made at Curry’s that is almost a perfect mirror image of the alarmist quotes you cited.

        You ought to be grateful to me, and not for the first time.

      • Now you consider yourself capable of telling me how I should feel.

        You say I should feel grateful to you for censoring me.

        I am rarely at a loss for words. But…

      • M Tobis, It will not be economically feasible to go to zero net CO2 emissions for more than a century.
        Probably two centuries.
        Not that the climate will “care” much either way.
        The utter failure of the CO2 concerned to address the one metric increased CO2 is a positive control knob for- the health of the biosphere- is fascinating to say the least
        The thing I find most interesting is how the climate true believers are achieving so much apocalyptic belief in the face of such a lack of evidence.

      • If the climate obsessed were working with rational belief, this site
        would be addressed, not ignored.

      • mtobis:

        ” … but it may not be obvious to some what they THOUGHT they were doing.”

        I agree with Tom here. Anyone who can write that should be thinking about a field other than communication. To a normal person it doesn’t matter what the creators of the No Pressure ad campaign “THOUGHT” they were doing. All that matters is what they actually did. If you can’t grasp such a simple concept as that, no amount of communicating on your part will have an effect.

  5. I’m going to start a site to compete with mckibben. Regarding Eli, he lets me write in his blog, I interviewed his cousin Ebenezer Rabett for my blog, and he didn’t take it bad. But I got the sense he tends to get very aggressive when he eats the wrong carrots. He’s been launching very nasty Twitters because I wrote Tsipras could go to hell.

  6. Pingback: Week in review – science edition | Climate Etc.

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  8. Steven Mosher

    In fairness to mt.

    “The only policy position that I publicly hold unconditionally is that net carbon emissions must cease as soon as possible.”


    I like a policy position that is as firm as possible. That is, we hold this unconditionally. Second the position is sufficiently vague enough to allow for negotiation. Let other folks sweat the details.

    The details of when is soon as possible and how to get there?
    not my job. I have no clue.

    why insist that he or I have answers to these specifics?

    • I find the inability to consider geoengineering to be a real puzzle. It’s an almost religious rejection of science.

      • I don’t think either MT or Steven Mosher have ruled out ambient carbon capture and sequestration. That’s usually included with “geoengineering”.

      • Geoengineering is too broad a term. The various proposals for purposely changing the climate range from passive to hyperactive. There are some that I would cheerfully support. Others I would reject almost out of hand.

      • Steven Mosher


        we are geo engineering.

        I think its fun to think about it

    • Hiya Steve

      That’s not the only policy position MT holds. It’s the only one he wishes to discuss at this particular point in time. As some of his previous pronouncements on policy are embarrassing, I understand his haste to abandon them. But he then resurrects them as zombie points that he asserts as proven.

      MT has been making policy prescriptions for five years, most of them unsupported by mainstream science. He is fixated on the worst case scenario for sensitivity, He demands policy be based on an outlier.

      Emitting CO2 is the same as mugging old ladies? He quoted that and repeated it off and on for over a year.

  9. Judith,

    What ever happened to the concept of the “loyal opposition?” When I chatted with Janet McCabe, director of the Clean Power Plan, at a January 2015 MEEA Conference in Chicago , I described myself to her as the “loyal opposition.” We proceeded to have a civil 30 minute conversation about climate change and the Clean Power Plan. No moral high ground, no name calling and no screeds! She is a Harvard educated lawyer (and student of Laurence Tribe), very smart and quite articulate. Honestly, I wish Gina McCarthy were so inclined these days.

    We need more dispassion, less partisanship and a thorough discussion about the state of the climate and its science.

    • Loyal opposition is good. Minority report is good. Red Team is good.

      Consensus scientists would have no problem with any of the three. Konsensus Messagers are too busy accusing their opponents of age, political bias, insincerity and ignorance to even entertain the concepts.

      • Thomas,

        “Loyal opposition is good. Minority report is good. Red Team is good.

        Consensus scientists would have no problem with any of the three.”

        Did you mean to say “would” or “should” ? Didn’t Gavin Schmidt refuse to even share the stage with Roy Spencer when given the opportunity?

      • Tom,
        Mark points out something important: The difference between the consensus and the konsensus is frequently negligible.

      • Hi Mark and Hunter

        I think there are a lot of people who drift between a consensus and Konsensus world view depending on their seratonin levels on a particular day. I’m not sure if that’s true of Schmidt–I think he’s trying to ride on Hansen’s coat-tails to high position and is happy to stir the fears of the Konsensus, but I don’t really know.

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