Monday, October 06, 2014

There’s more to climate change denial than semantics

I’m trying to sort out my feelings after reading an article from the October 1 edition of New York Magazine, “Psychologists are Learning How to Convince Conservatives to Take Climate Change Seriously.”

The crux of the article is that because liberals and conservatives see the world in vastly different ways, we have to craft the message of man-made climate change in a certain code that appeals to a conservative’s deep-rooted biases. Facts alone are not enough. The author and the psychologists he interviews point out more than several times that liberals are to blame for not knowing how to talk to conservatives about this important issue.

As someone who works in marketing, I know all about crafting messages for target audiences. It’s what we do. So at that level the argument makes some sense. Based on background, education, age, gender, etc., people will have different responses to the same message. A message that appeals to me as a liberal will probably not go over so well with red-state evangelical Christians. I get that.

The part of the argument I struggle with is that we are facing a worldwide disaster that is going to have an adverse impact on every living thing, and we must act now to try and reverse its affects. To me, it’s as if I see a tornado bearing down on my Uncle Al’s house and I run in to tell him that he and his family are in danger, but he does nothing because I’m a lying socialist big-government Democrat. I’m left with two choices. Leave them to the mercy of the tornado or physically drag them out of the house. There’s no time to argue or dream up a more appealing message for my conservative kin. Action, one way or another, is required.

The article starts from the baseline that man-made climate change is real, and that those people with an active, functioning brain understand this, but goes on to argue that we (liberals) need to expend energy and time dealing with a group of stubborn, corporate-backed children who refuse to take the threat seriously.

Historically, America has faced this situation many times before. We fought a civil war because we could not as a country reach common ground on slavery. We pulled conservatives kicking and screaming through women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, ending the war in Vietnam, and the era of environmental regulations, and we very well may have to do it again.

I don’t know. Maybe repackaging the climate change message will work with the average conservative, but the money people behind the deniers, the Koch’s and Adelson’s and Waltons, will not be so easily dissuaded, because their motivation is even more powerful than conservative bias. It’s about the bottom line.

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