When hurricanes Harvey and Irma blew into Houston, the entire state of Florida, and the Caribbean, they also blew a big hole in the EPA’s attack on clean energy. Pruitt’s claim that it was “insensitive” to talk about what actually caused so much damage fell flat too. Everyone who accepts climate science is more determined than ever to fight climate denial. But we need better language for this round, as well as new tactics.
Before we look at some new language though, let’s review our situation. By the end of Obama’s last term, public action had stopped the Keystone pipeline. An unprecedented coming together of activists from almost every sector supported the DAPL action. That included veterans who said they came to defend our American “water protectors.” This level of successful public resistance scared Big Fossil Fuel so badly they decided they needed to be the government, not just lobby and buy it. The Fossil Fuel Gang’s counterattack shows they are now at the maximum fright stage. (Their deceptive, immoral, and destructive behavior over the last few decades fully qualifies them to be called a gang: “the FF Gang.”)(1.) And Russia was delighted to help them, because Russia depends on fossil fuel sales. In Donald Trump they thought they’d found their perfect Trojan horse, because it’s clear he’s in debt to them in some way.
Of course, ever since January, 2017 Trump and the GOP have been very busy destroying all U.S. rules, programs, and agreements to slow the pace of climate change. But the FF Gang’s forbidding government officials to say or write the words “climate change” is going to be the Achilles heel of their Trojan horse. Given that the rest of the world is moving toward a clean energy economy, this silly piece of government censorship clearly shows how much the FF Gang are head-in-the-sand fools. (2) However, the irony of it is this: we need to stop saying “climate change” too. It sounds mild, it sounds bland, maybe even nice. And it doesn’t begin to convey the level of nature’s fury happening now. It also fails to suggest anything about why that change is happening.
Now I know that some recommend talking about “climate disruption.” But that is still a far too polite and academic way of talking. It fails to resonate widely because it is multisyllabic Latinate language that flies right past ordinary Americans. Even “climate crisis” is too mild. What we are seeing now is “climate chaos. Huge, unprecedented hurricanes batter our eastern and southern coasts. They are laying waste to vast fossil fuel industry facilities that spread deadly pollution as they go down. Enormous tornadoes and droughts churn and bake wide swaths of our mid-western agricultural “bread basket.” Massive air-polluting fires rage all along our west coast. Rising seas are starting to sink many of our biggest and most important coastal cities. Climate chaos is also creating huge levels of damage to our economy and our federal budget. We can’t sustain the costs of constantly rising disaster relief and infrastructure repair. The American people literally cannot afford to tiptoe around this issue anymore. Our FF Gang government must start changing course right now.
But to push them harder in the right direction, we need to up our framing game even more. Taking Step 1, which is talking about “climate chaos,” isn’t enough by itself. We have to talk about it in a way that makes very clear why it’s happening. So I’m suggesting Step 2: saying “fossil-fueled climate chaos.” Yes, I know that whole sectors of our society still don’t believe that’s the reason the storms, fires, droughts and floods are getting worse. But after years of writing about how to talk to the doubters in a way that might open their minds, I’ve decided to take another tack in this post.(3) It’s time we called a spade a spade, and let go of worrying about what the doubters think. The biggest problem we have on this issue is silence about it.
But even naming the problem “fossil-fueled climate chaos” is not enough by itself. We need a Step 3: giving people the idea that we can still protect ourselves from even worse to come, if we do the right thing. So how about saying some of the following:
“Get fossil-fueled climate chaos in check!” “Bring back the Clean Power Plan/
Or:/ Bring back the rules that keep our air clean/
Or/Pass HR 3671, The Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (The OFF Act,)
introduced by Rep.Tulsi Gabbard(D-HI)/
Or/Pass the Sanders-Merkley bill, The “100 by 50” Act ( 2050).”
Take your pick of the solutions out there for your Step 3 “solutions” frame. But whatever you choose, hit all three steps, and say it loud and clear, again and again, everywhere you can. The time for worrying about what some people mistakenly believe is gone.
Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org, and author of our book, Move Our Message: How to Get America’s Ear. The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997. Follow Susan on Twitter @SusanCStrong, on The Metaphor Project on Facebook, and check out her TEDx talk too.
(1.) As we know, abundant evidence exists that the FF Gang knew full well what climate disaster their policies would create. They also failed to report this information to their investors, thereby committing actionable negligence. They formed industry groups to mount huge PR campaigns to discredit the findings of mainstream climate science. They recruited a few rogue scientists willing to charge reputable colleagues with fraud, even in the face of unprecedented levels of scientific agreement (97%).These are just some of the worst actions they have taken over the previous few decades. But in those same decades we got the equally vicious Big Tobacco gang in check. With luck we can stop the FF Gang too, before they kill every single creature on our planet, us included, by making the earth uninhabitable.
(2.) Yes, we all know the oil companies are really just trying to protect their investment in drilling sites, refineries, and the rest of the oil infrastructure, as well as their current business model. In fact, we will still need them for a while, as we transition to the 100% clean energy economy. But they could be openly and honestly preparing for a transition to other kinds of business, the way the automobile business is. They could be working on shifting their structure to become B-corporations, getting the common good into their bottom line. And they could be changing course on what kind of American government they are running, starting right now.
(3) However, here is one thing you can try if you like for persuading the deniers: Even if some people resist believing that our weather chaos is caused by fossil-fueled climate change, there is a question those folks should answer. What if it is true? Do you want to take a chance on it? Wouldn’t it be better if we had a “climate chaos” insurance policy” in the form of better government policy? Especially if that would mean cleaner air, soil, food, water, energy, and new safer jobs close to home? After all, actual insurance companies are getting out of the business of climate damage coverage. What does that say?
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