Friday, April 18, 2014

Marketing global warming to convince more people it's actually happening

I guess I shouldn't be shocked that environmental groups are using well-researched messages to convince the public climate change is happening and something must be done about it immediately. As someone who works in the energy field, you could say it's just the pot calling the kettle black. We frequently test messages on a variety of topics and carefully choose our words to get our message out. And I see it across the board in other industries. You will be amazed about this one. 

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote in The New York Times about the environmental groups' strategy. 

The big problem these days is whenever there is a weather disaster, many immediately turn to the cause as "climate change from carbon pollution." The problem, they have found, is that when it's cold and snowy in winter - wait, that's not climate change - that's just winter! Or when we don't get a lot of hurricanes, or they're not too severe, then you can't blame a not-too-violent storm on climate change. Even Superstorm Sandy, which resulted in tremendous financial loss and was a human tragedy as well, was just a tropical storm hitting one of the most heavily populated areas on the planet. That's just bad luck you can't blame on climate change. 

So here are the marketing lessons from the environmental experts on how to market climate change:
  1. Claims that current disasters are connected to climate change motivate liberals to support action, but alienate conservative in equal measure. Not a good strategy if you want to move people to your side. 
  2. What works, say environmental pollsters - Focusing on popular solutions. Note, I didn't say real solutions. Popular ones only. Solar, wind and energy efficiency reduce emissions while "strengthening the economy." But environmentalists ignore the fact these options are not the least cost, nor are they uniformly paid for by all citizens. What I mean by that is in a utility's energy efficiency program, if you get a rebate and I don't, is not fair to me. You get the benefit. Yes, it's available to me, but I only get a $250 rebate if I invest $1,500 in a new refrigerator, money I may not have available. So limited renewable solutions that ignore other, less sexy low carbon options, also polarize people on either side. 
  3. A conclusion from the journal Nature Climate Change, sponsored by - guess who - Environmental Defense Fund - says "Communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society" instead of "the reality of climate change and averting its risks." That's because the reality of climate change doesn't fit the narrative that we're going to hell in a handbasket. Or better said, that we have time to address the potential impacts of climate change in a way that the economy can absorb without creating severe economic disruption. 

Interestingly, nearly every major environmental organization rejects nuclear energy, and many even oppose the move from coal to natural gas, which produces almost half the carbon emissions. Together with the rhetoric about catastrophes around every corner seen internationally on The Weather Channel, the result is that many believe climate change is being exaggerated. They then conclude no action should be taken. After all, ask Nordhaus and  Shellenberger, if climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?

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