Marketing Climate Change 101

Climate change poses a threat to our future generations. Sea levels will rise by about 2 meters over the next hundred years. Global temperatures could increase by over two degrees Fahrenheit. The fragile ecosystems that support all manner of Flora and Fauna, sometimes endemic to a specific region may be threatened. If we don’t act now, we could…

Hear that?

It’s the sound of eyes glossing over. The very eyes we need open and at attention.

I study Environmental Science. I’ve heard the facts and figures, and because I am versed in this stuff, stats-based arguments for climate change action work on me. And odds are, if you already believe in the realities and the threat posed by climate change, they work on you too. For us, hearing that by 2100 Miami and New Orleans may be underwater is enough.

But we’re already on board with the idea. If we want climate change action to become the status quo, fought for by our legislatures, governments, friends and family, climate change will need a bit of marketing to reach those who tune out when we start rattling off statistics.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen two great efforts at climate change marketing. The first was by Hillary Clinton in her “Stand for Reality” video:

You didn’t hear many numbers there, except for her 500 million solar panels figure. She didn’t wax poetic about the inherent beauty and value of nature, or lament the dwindling habitat of Polar Bears, because that just doesn’t work on the type of people who need convincing. She used very human-centered, urgent words, talking about “making America the clean energy superpower”, extolling an “open, efficient, and resilient grid” and tying her plan to a reinforcement of our freedom of choice. She mentions the health advantages granted by our current alternative energy system (lackluster though it is), rather than telling us how wonderful it will be once we do what she wants. By keeping things firmly focused on humans and not making the problem seem like it is a century away, Clinton effectively markets for climate change action.
The next great example of climate change marketing came on Monday from President Barack Obama, in his video which accompanied the White House’s “Clean Power Plan” announcement:
Rewind to the beginning of the video. What does the President say first? Climate change is a problem for our economy and our security. These two words are the strongest attention-grabbers for the kinds of people who doubt climate change is real. Someone working two jobs and barely scraping by doesn’t have time to care about Polar Bears or zooplankton. They may not even have time to worry about the wellbeing of their great-grandchildren, when they’re just trying to make sure that their own babies are getting enough to eat. It’s up to us, the billion-person climate change marketing department, to show them that the problem affects them, here and now. These aren’t faceless people living in the year 2100, these are your friends, your neighbors, even you.
In the past two days since the announcement, the most popularly shared line from the video (it was even the tagline for our coverage) was that “climate change is not a problem for another generation–not anymore.” That line is a very effective slogan. It’s brief, it’s easy to understand, and it conveys the message that we need to act now because climate change threatens us. 
Though their videos on the whole are a great step towards convincing people of the urgency of climate change action, both of their efforts are hampered by a fatal flaw: the person speaking.
Now, it’s only natural that Hillary Clinton would speak about her plans for once she is elected, and of course President Obama is going to announce his Administration’s Clean Power Plan. But we (as non-Presidents) need to realize that the messenger is as important as the message. A message from Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will do wonders to help liberals feel good, but will do nearly nothing to sway the hearts and minds of those who deny that climate change exists, or who don’t want to “harm business” to stop it. Many of these people are conservative, and as soon as they hear a Clinton or Obama speak, they tune right out. For this reason, we need to be open to supporting some nontraditional messengers for the cause.
Despite what you may think, there are right-wing conservative politicians who acknowledge that climate change exists. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, and former Ohio Governor John Kasich are all GOP candidates for 2016, and have all acknowledged that climate change is real (Christie even went so far as to say we are causing it). However, the left tends to steamroll over these statements with “yeah, but what about issue x or y?”. Just like I said after the criticism of the Pope’s climate stance, we should focus on what we have in common, not what divides us. We need to support non-traditional defenders of climate change science, not minimize them, because that is likely the only way we will win the other half of the country to our side, and get ourselves out of this predicament.