Our fine young intern Josh Hedrick recently pointed me to a New York Times article entitled “Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons” (http://nyti.ms/cy02W1)—which asks, “If the scientific consensus on climate change has not changed, why have so many people turned away from the idea that human activity is warming the planet?”
And while the article reports that Climate Change skepticism seems to be particularly high in Great Britain, it also noted: “A March Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans believed that the seriousness of global warming was ‘generally exaggerated,’ up from 41 percent a year ago.”
Even after a record June and July heat wave tailor-made for the Global Warmists’ predictions, I’m still not seeing the issue dominating weather-related headlines this summer.
So what’s going on here? Clearly, the most damaging blow to public trust came from the numerous media exposés of Climatologists playing fast and loose with their facts (IE: Naming, as allies, any number of reputable scientists who are resolutely agnostic, or even skeptical, on the issue. Suppressing valid evidence that contradicts their gloomy predictions). For years, I’ve been asking the question: Global Warmists have so much to support their position, what possesses them to undercut that position by incorporating outright lies into their argument?
If there’s one area where most members of my profession are profoundly misunderstood, it’s this: Advertisers cannot lie. We can’t even make unsupported exaggerations. It’s a recipe for the death of your client’s business.
There’s also a converse proposition to that reality: Nothing will put a bad business out of business faster than good advertising. I once worked with a creative director who assembled a brilliant print campaign for a bar-b-q restaurant in Atlanta. The ads were so effective that, on the restaurant’s Grand Opening day, the line to get inside literally wrapped around the building. There was only one problem: The restaurant made appalling bar-b-q. And thanks to that remarkably effective campaign, word spread like the plague. Within a couple of months, the restaurant had closed its doors forever.
That said, I would argue that the Warmists’ second biggest mistake has been misguided messaging. While there is certainly a genuinely educated segment of our population that understands the threat, for the average “man on the street,” Global Warming rates a big So What. Particularly during the winter months—when Global Warming sounds like a pretty good deal indeed.
I haven’t given a tremendous amount of thought to formulating a messaging strategy for the Warmists, but my impression is that a far more effective platform would be, “Man-made POLLUTION is worse than ever. It’s poisoning us and our ecosystem. And by the way, it’s slowly heating-up the planet to the point where some really bad things are going to happen for all of us.”
Everybody understands pollution. You can look out the window (or down on the gulf), and you can see it. There’s absolutely no pretending that pollution isn’t created by man’s activities—and there’s no intelligent way to argue that it isn’t bad. What’s more, if we tackled the pollution problem, guess what: The global warming threat would pretty much take care of itself.
And where that aforementioned converse proposition is concerned: Let’s just say that we did everything Climatologists want us to do, for the sake of preventing Global Warming—and the planet just keeps on heating up, utterly disproving (at least in the public’s mind) their predictions. Nobody will ever listen to them again.
Finally, think of how many effective public service campaigns have used memorable icons to represent their message: Smoky the Bear. The crying Indian Chief in the legendary anti-litter TV spot from the 1960’s. Global Warmists need the same thing: Something that’s going to either grab our hearts, or put just enough fear in those hearts to spur action.
None of my suggestions are rocket science. Just common sense. Unfortunately, for all the solid science Global Warmists have on their side, the one element their campaign appears to be lacking altogether is plain common sense.
Originally published 7/23/10 in the Birmingham Business Journal.