Right now we’re in the aftermath of Election 2016, with President-Elect Trump heading for the Oval Office. Added to what’s happened to Congress, climate protection is likely to be under heavy attack. Who, then, is our audience for doing what? And how should we talk to them about the issue?
First, a little more context. The GOP may be unexpectedly foiled in destroying climate protections. Since the election, numerous players have weighed in on the issue: hundreds of major companies have already contacted Trump about leaving climate protection measures alone. All other signatories to the Paris Accords made plain their intentions to forge ahead with it, and market forces re fossil fuel prices have already made recovery of the U.S. coal industry unlikely. In addition, states and local communities have long been moving ahead on their own with climate protection programs. The number of stakeholders in the climate protection “game” are many and powerful. The pushing and shoving likely to take place behind the scenes in D.C. will be mighty too, though we may be unable to see it clearly. But none of these players need our framing help.
Who does? Climate protection activists at the national, state, and local level, dealing with an audience of Trump voters who felt abandoned by both the GOP and the Democratic party. For these voters, the word “climate” is a red flag. They have been trained to believe that there is nothing wrong with our climate, or if there is, there’s nothing we can do about it. They have been told that the changes taking place are natural. Even if they have their doubts, they are likely to keep quiet, for fear of ostracism by their communities and churches. But what they want, what they voted for in choosing Mr. Trump, is economic recovery with good local jobs that stay home in the U.S.A. As my readers probably know very well, that is the definition of a clean energy economy. Talking about clean energy matters too, because Americans as a whole like things to be clean. Nor is this mere persuasive strategy. Demanding clean energy jobs now is an honest, effective way to respond to their legitimate gripes—no jobs in the rust belt, few jobs in rural areas.
In my previous, pre-November 8th version of this blog post, I mentioned some powerful visual stories about how we could switch to a clean energy economy and reap huge benefits. Charles Ferguson’s 2015 film, Time to Choose and Leonardo Di Caprio’s Before the Flood, come to mind. These are worth reviewing now, in case you haven’t seen them, for the pieces in them about how clean energy businesses are forming and growing worldwide. Here are some ideas for how to talk about the examples you will find in those films: The rest of the world is racing as fast as they can to be the first to profit from clean energy systems, equipment, and economic innovations. Unless the GOP-Trump folk are stopped in their shortsighted course, they will ensure that the U.S. will be left in the dust of the global clean energy revolution that is coming faster every day. The U.S. risks being turned into a dirty, backward, and economically damaged country very quickly, if we don’t keep up. (There’s an old saying that the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.) Technology races are won by the smart and fast. Making the transition to a clean energy economy with plenty of jobs here at home is doable. Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford has already done the research and laid out a plan for how we can make this happen. The U.S. needs to make this our new national “ let’s move forward” project. If we do this now, we can still stay in the global competition as the clean energy revolution picks up speed.
The films I’ve mentioned above also show some really disgusting scenes of serious pollution and poisoning from fossil fuel industries. Dirty! Literally sickening! You can collect examples of dangerous pollution from them. And while these films definitely use the word “climate,” they also say, and you need to say, “Moving to a clean energy economy is our biggest innovation challenge, an American “can do” test, and “we can ‘meet it if we really try.’” More talk about clean energy jobs is what we need now. But watch out for talking about the “climate” to general audiences. That will just be a way to get ignored and shut down. Let’s make sure we are talking about clean energy in a way Trump voters and their elected officials can actually hear! Those GOP voters are the ones President Trump or the GOP-led Congress might actually notice. Getting their demand for clean energy jobs out front now is our best hope for real progress.
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 and check out her Speaking American TEDx talk too.
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