The Washington Post reports on how this very question is splitting environmental groups across America -- excellent capture of this moment in environmental messaging.
One poll done this fall for the Pew Environment Group found 76 percent of likely 2010 voters think global warming is happening now or will happen in the future, and 71 percent called it a serious threat. But another survey, done about the same time by the Pew Research Center, caused a stir after it found that the number of people who saw solid evidence that warming is happening had shrunk from 71 percent to 57 percent since April 2008.
Now, given the slow progress in the Senate, some green groups say they want to broaden their appeal beyond committed environmentalists, to the skeptical, the agnostic and the distracted.
That means minimizing doomsday predictions and focusing on positives: A climate bill will create jobs in the renewable-energy industry and keep money away from oil-state villains.
The messaging data doesn't only show that motivating the American public to action on climate disruption is a challenge. Showing consistent majorities of the public favoring solutions, it also paints a picture of a Congress -- tied to big-moneyed fossil fuel interests -- that is far behind its constituents on both the threats posed by destabilizing Earth's climate system and the promise offered by the solutions.
The key, then, would seem to be to build up a sufficiently strong level of public clamor for solutions to convince Congress to act. With big moneyed interests funding efforts to instill doubt, Americans were recently found to prioritize solving Climate Change lower than even Iraqi's and Palestinians! So we have a huge challenge here.
How to you build a stronger majority? While it's tough to get many conservatives to become concerned about the threats posed by climate disruption, the opposite side of the coin, which we emphasize, is that it's easier to get them to agree on solutions such as a transition to a Clean Energy Economy than it is to focus on the details of climate disruption. As the Washington Post article notes:
On Tuesday night, climate activist Nancy Jackson addressed one of the most climate-skeptical audiences in the country: Kansans. She was speaking to college students here in Manhattan -- a town where one religious leader was able to draw congregants to screenings of "An Inconvenient Truth" only by passing out Nerf balls, so they could hurl them at the image of Al Gore.
"Take climate change off the table, okay?" Jackson said, after reciting evidence that the climate really is changing. "You don't have to buy it for everything I'm about to say, because everything we do [to combat climate change] is a good idea for at least three other reasons."
She told the students that Kansas has an abundance of wind, sun and crops such as corn and prairie grasses -- all potential sources of renewable power. The message worked, at least on 21-year-old student Matthew Brandt. He said he doesn't believe in climate change, but -- after hearing Jackson's talk -- he was interested in windmills.
Fortunately, there's been a tremendous recent surge in recommendations coming out of the environmental messaging fields (e.g., conservation psychology, sociology), which are beginning to filter into efforts to motivate the public to action. No matter what the right answer proves to be, the debate seems to be proving fruitful.
On our end, CVI currently favors a balanced approach of emphasizing BOTH the very real dangers of inaction and the promise of a brighter, more secure future offered by the solutions.
I do believe that WWF's Carter Roberts nailed it on the head when he says in the Post piece that:
"The reality is, we need to save ourselves. The connection between an intact planet and people's well-being . . . is the part of the equation that's missing."