Why U.S. Environmentalists Lost the Climate Change Fight
The battle over climate change in the U.S. is over and environmentalists have been defeated, skewered, tapped out. With Pres. Trump’s administration filled with deniers and people who believe science is the work of the devil, pulling out of the Paris Agreement was simply confirmation that the climate change discussion in the U.S. has ended in the mud of Fox News and Duck Dynasty intellectualism.
If environmentalists really want to have an impact — if they want to win because winning is everything — than they need a dramatic shift in strategy. And they need to recognize their mistakes. Spending the next 10 years debating water temperatures in Polynesia with Sean Hannity’s followers seems like a real waste of time.
The Save-the-Earth gang lost the fight at the start, the day they started blabbing about all the alarming data on global temperatures and rising sea levels. They thought they had the big winner. It was about the globe, man, the end of time. The destruction of the Earth, rising seas, global warming melting the ice caps — this is Gothic, Biblical shit!
They blew it. When the debate became about climate change instead of simply “pollution,” the game changed. Communities around the States were winning the pollution battle. People universally believe in clean, drinkable water. They want breathable air. They get the horror stories; many people have friends or relatives who have been personally damaged by corporate negligence.
Ending pollution is a cause people can support without reservation. Nobody is against the environment. Most people logically understand that corporations would willingly spew crap into the air and water without some oversight. Radical libtard Richard Nixon knew that when he created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
Sure, there have been defeats and backsliding, but environmentalists generally kicked ass in the pollution game, with huge parks, great beaches and breathable air providing nice rewards to all supporters of the cause. Anybody driving through cities like Los Angeles can see the changes to the deep brown smog that once hovered over the city. They can hike the trails and see the nice trees next to Starbucks.
‘Gore and the gang made the fight about the planet, but some people don’t give a shit about the planet.’
But then the debate shifted to “climate change.” And somehow the U.S. environmentalists lost the heartland, even as countries around the world embraced the battle to save the globe. Pushed by the chubby, old-white-dude cabal of Rush Limbaugh, the Koch brothers and Roger Ailes, a great chunk of America was convinced that clean air and water was a liberal plot to keep scientists employed, or something like that.
The right wingers knew that climate change was a tough concept for “grass roots” Americans to grasp. They may hate and distrust big corporations, but they hate scientists and eggheads more. Trot out a contrarian “expert“ who says climate change is a hoax and all those old prejudices against the asshole, condescending “elite” come bubbling to the surface. No more discussion about smog and health risks; now it’s “fuck Al Gore” and all those “self-serving smarty pants.”
In essence, environmentalist lost the marketing war. They framed the argument badly, picked the wrong messaging, ran the wrong ads and missed the motivations that would sway the majority of the public. The environmental community was maneuvered into a fight they could not win, even though they had the moral high ground and mountains of facts.
The whole concept of climate change was a loser. To many Americans, “climate change” doesn’t affect their views or cause cancer clusters. Even devout nature lovers hesitate to commit resources to fight something that doesn’t impact their drive to work or their weekend power walk. And what about those Chinese and all those coal plants? Or India? What will me buying a hybrid instead of the V-8 with the hemi and cool rear spoiler do about that?
Fighting climate change requires people to think about the future beyond themselves, which isn’t, shall we say, the strong suit for many people. A large part of America doesn’t give a rat’s ass about future generations, especially if it’s going to interrupt Sunday’s NASCAR race.
Gore and the gang made the fight about the planet, but some people don’t give a shit about the planet. They care about their neighborhood. They care about the stack of garbage down by the lake. They care about spending big money on sunscreen to protect their kids from skin cancer.
Saving the globe for future generations is way down on the list of their priorities.
In The Era of Trump, environmentalists need to get back to their roots. Make the fight about pollution. Remind people of the horrors of what happens to the neighborhood when people stop worrying about the environment. They’ll get it. A 2016 study by Pew Research Center found 75 percent of Americans are concerned about helping the environment in their daily lives, but only 36 percent care “a great deal” about climate change.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican with a firm grip of the public zeitgeist, clearly understands this marketing approach. His video (see below) condemning efforts to gut pollution laws went viral, making a strong statement about the imminent dangers, while barely mentioning climate change.
“Seven million people die every year of pollution-related illnesses,” he says in the video, which argues you can protect business and the economy at the same time. (A few years ago he wrote an article entitled, “I Don’t Give a **** if We Agree about Climate Change.”)
The Arnold gets it. Make the debate about saving lives and making money. That’s what people want to hear. Cut carbon emissions and your kid won’t get emphysema. Enforce corporate regulations and you can fish in the river. That’s the way to advance the goals of slowing climate change. And it sounds better than trying to convince people to drive a hybrid so their grandkids won’t lose their ocean front property.
Kevin Brass is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and Ozy. He is the author of “The Cult of Truland,” a satirical novel set in the world of celebrity journalism.