Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Part 2: General Strategic Tips, or The Ideas that Made it to the Top 5

We believe that there are some argumentative basics that need to be foregrounded in debates about the climate crisis. This quick overview sets the stage for the more specific suggestions later in the countermemo.

1) Don't strand the climate issue on an island; instead, build bridges to other issues. Too often, concerned citizens or scientists expect action based solely on the environmental consequences that will result from the climate crisis. But the climate crisis is also an energy, jobs, and democracy issue. An good example of this strategy in action is the work of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition that includes labor, environmental, urban, and business communities working towards energy independence, and has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and various international labor unions.

2) Give the naysayer's ideas what they're worth: second billing to your own. Put forth your positive message clearly, linking it to core values like public health, responsibility to future generations, or protection of our environmental heritage. Then respond to the skeptics’ claims. Starting with why the skeptics are wrong gives them too much credence and foregrounds their concerns rather than your own.

3) Words, not charts and graphs, will persuade. Part of the problem of recent global warming advocacy has been the reliance on complex scientific argument to the detriment of other types of argument. Stressing the scientific consensus on the side of global warming advocacy is crucial, but emphasizing the weight of the overlapping scientific consensus will ultimately be more persuasive than hyper-specific scientific proof.

4) Take a page from the populist playbook and call out the puppetmasters. Advocates must identify the structural problems in the public debate on climate. Demonstrating how the oil and gas industry and the government have manipulated the debate is a crucial way to cast doubt on the truth of skeptics' claims.

5) The unknown unknowns should motivate us, not the known knowns or known unknowns (thank you, Donald Rumsfeld). Explaining the consequences of severe climate change presents a quandary. On the one hand, scaring people witless might actually induce them to buy sport utility vehicles better prepared to deal with the extreme weather events (this has been the result of The Day After Tomorrow!) On the other hand, underplaying the consequences seems risky as well by failing to convey a sense of urgency. The honest truth is: no one knows exactly what the consequences of pumping out tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is...and that should motivate us to act. The likelihood of extreme weather events, shifts in agricultural belts, and collapses of ecosystems should frighten us precisely because we do not understand the way that these impacts will be felt. We must determine a way to communicate this uncertainty in a way that encourages action.

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