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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Evan Kopelson: The Biggest Obstacles to a Climate Deal are Overwhelm and Emotional Disconnect

The Biggest Obstacles to a Climate Deal are Overwhelm and Emotional Disconnect

by Evan Kopelson, Green Media News, December 6, 2010
History tends to repeat itself

In a completely unscientific study, Green Media News has found the biggest obstacles to reaching a global deal on climate change are the massive overwhelm and emotional disconnect that stop climate change issues from becoming part of the national discourse.


I’m overwhelmed with all this. And I have a high tolerance for minutia; if I’m overwhelmed, that’s not a good sign.

I have to admit I’m torn. I’ve been reading news from Cancun all afternoon. And I’m tempted to go down the list and talk about all the things that are happening at COP16 and around the world relative to climate change.

The world is burning. Island nations are flooding.
Indigenous peoples have been poisoned, their land and water contaminated with toxic waste dumped by oil companies in the name of profit. People are being displaced by the millions due to climate-related disasters. Bloggers are ranting about it. The mainstream news barely covers it.

Is the climate movement guilty of preaching to the choir?

Well, really… is anyone else listening to words like “adaptation” and “mitigation”?

Finding: There is an emotional disconnect between the language of the climate movement and its underlying drivers. This emotional disconnect is the single greatest obstacle to reaching a climate deal because when you look at the language of the movement, it becomes immediately and crystal clear why there is no global consensus for action: without emotional currency driving a movement for change, there is no real motivation for change.

Here’s an example of how a climate refugee might describe their experience with climate change:

I’m scared and hungry. My parents were killed in the flood. Somehow I survived. But there is no one to take care of me. All my friends are gone. My pet is gone too. I have nothing.The government says we don’t have enough money to rebuild and we have to move. All of us… my whole village. It’s so crowded in the refugee camps. There are many thousands of us. Where shall we go now? Is this the rest of my life, in this refugee camp now? Someone please tell me how I can get out of this mess. I have dreams for my life and my future. Are my dreams going to die? Am I going to be a refugee forever?

But here’s how we talk about climate change in the UNFCCC process:

We must make advances on issues such as mitigation and adaptation. We must come to agreement on REDD as part of a balanced package that includes compromise on all sides. Hopefully if participating nations are willing to compromise on important issues, progress to a balanced package can be made.

Can you see the emotional disconnect between the words being tossed around and the actual human experience of suffering and loss due to climate change?

Let’s contrast the above with some anti-climate messages we hear often on the FOX-GOP:

They’re going to raise our taxes! They’re fighting a war against business! They’ll shut down your business with their over-regulation and excessive taxation!!!

Now that’s an emotional message.

See, the problem with the climate movement is that it was born in an era where science really mattered. It’s only recently with the FOX-GOP’s assault on science that the climate movement suffered its biggest setback: the emotional disconnect.

The FOX-GOP has taken the messaging campaign of anti-climate-change to the hearts and minds of America, while the climate movement itself still struggles with an identity crisis and a marketing failure.

As I sit here watching the clock ticking by, my thoughts are many. Here’re just a few:
  • I have to work in the morning
  • If I don’t post until midnight again, no one’s gonna see the post
  • The internet connection at this cafe is so damned slow
  • She’s cute (oops, distracted….)
  • What is the story down in Cancun?
  • Love Bill McKibben’s quote about Winston Churchill.
  • Great job, Canadian Youth delegation for calling out your government!
  • Are people really so dense to ignore climate disaster in Pakistan and wonder why they support the Taliban?
  • OMFG Ted Turner did you really say that?!
  • With all the great coverage of COP16 that nobody is reading, what good can I do?
The overwhelm is the other great obstacle to reaching a climate deal. I’m focused on this with all my heart and all my might. Yet I’m tired after a long weekend of 12-hour shifts at my day job. I spent the whole day today reading and watching news, thinking and meditating, writing and deleting… and when push came to shove, and I saw the clock ticking away, this is all I could muster to say.

So what about the people we’re trying to reach — the people on the outside — the ones who aren’t watching COP16 news, or reading climate change blogs? What about the people who are more emotionally moved that their taxes are going up?

And why are we talking about taxing dirty energy without moving subsidies from big oil to the green sector?
Why is it fair to tax something dirty when the clean alternative isn’t even available at scale?

The solutions being discussed are missing the mark.

Here’s what I need to get over my own overwhelm and emotional disconnect… and to the Climate Movement, if you can meet me where I stand — which admittedly is a lot closer to your side of the street than the anti-climate bunch — chances are, you’ll be a lot closer to reaching your adversaries:
  • Give me clean energy first. Then tax the dirty stuff. Don’t tax fossil fuel energy excessively without first creating the clean energy which won’t be taxed, and making that energy available to me. DUH.
  • Talk to me in words that make me feel something. I don’t care about words like “mitigation” and “adaptation” and “balanced package,” no matter how much you tell me those words are important. I DON’T CARE. Find words that move my heart.
Everything else is detail. Speak to these two bullet points above, and we’ll have a climate deal in no time.


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