In the developed world most people accept that the climate is warming and that humans are at least partially responsible. (In the developing world most have never heard of the issue.)
However, they don’t much care, consistently rating climate change somewhere between hangnails and the heartbreak of psoriasis on their list of things requiring attention.
There have been several strategies used by climate activists to try and change it. The two ‘legitimate’ efforts have been to try and overcome an ‘information deficit,’ which translates into educating people about the issue, and ‘framing’ the issue, which used to be called finding the right sales pitch.
Vox writes, “A letter published this month in Nature Climate Change attempts to settle the question. Researchers Thomas Bernauer and Liam F. McGrath, political scientists at Switzerland’s Center for Comparative and International Studies, set up experiments in which people (drawn from different demographic and ideological backgrounds) were randomly assigned texts that framed climate change in different ways.
One was “climate risk reduction,” the standard frame. The other three were “economic co-benefits, community building, and health benefits.” At the end, subjects were tested on three different measures of willingness to support action on climate change, ranging from personal action to policy action.Long story short: None of it worked. The researchers found that different framings had no consistent or statistically significant effects on subjects’ willingness to support climate action.”
Climate activists have also engaged in ‘guerrilla marketing,’ mounting campaigns against their opponents and using emotive iconography to paint a picture of a world threatened by climate change that has in fact barely begun to register on the measuring devices of environmental scientists.
But, as Vox says, none of it has worked. The public still accepts climate change and still refuses to be overly concerned about it.
The activist community is stubborn–and I don’t mean that as an insult. Dogged determination has been one of the root causes of success for many social causes. So I don’t think they have any intention of abandoning the fight. The political successes they have had are a) not enough to turn the tide (or lower it, for that matter) and b) are easily reversible with a change of governments, as shown in Australia, Canada and the UK.
Those who are convinced that climate change is the challenge facing this decade/century/millenium will continue to try and find the key to the public opinion puzzle.
If I were counseling them, I would suggest that a good look at history might be of some value to them going forward. To date, the only playbook they have availed themselves of has been the struggle against Big Tobacco. They want to prosecute oil companies, jail dissenters, etc., because that’s what activists did fighting tobacco.
But this requires a certain blindness, to history as well as morality. As noted in 2012 by the Guardian, “Revenues from global tobacco sales are estimated to be close to $500bn (£316bn), generating combined profits for the six largest firms of $35.1bn – more than $1,100 a second.” What exactly did the activists win?
They managed to drag executives into court, won some high profile cases and won damages or reparations for families of some who were killed by smoking. They blackened the names of the industry that has blackened the lungs of millions–but that’s about it.
That climate activists have convinced themselves that this strategy is a winner is odd, but no odder than many of the things climate activists have done.
I wonder why they don’t pick a movement that actually succeeded? There are many to choose from, ranging from abolition to votes for women to civil rights. Why, there are even environmental campaigns that actually succeeded.
The most recent successful movement has been for legal and social acceptance of the LGBT members of society. Although the movement has a long history, actual movement of the issue was telescoped into this last decade.
There are lessons to be learned from each of these movements. But there’s one thing they all had in common–they were outside the establishment agitating for change.
Which means to me that, whatever path they choose next, claiming the mantle of authority and the legitimacy of consensus may not prove to be the best foundation for their future efforts.
Sometimes that tells the wrong story.