An Enviro War Room

That’s what Geoffrey Lean suggests is needed to counter what he calls the “swiftboating” of climate science in the wake of Climategate. He argues that “environmentalists must bear a fair share of the responsibility” for the rising number of people who don’t believe in global warming (according to recent polls). He partly blames the “backlash” on Al Gore’s Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, because of “the film’s polemicism and exaggerations.”

But Lean also argues:

Environmental groups, once brilliant at swaying public opinion, have lost their touch. They have progressively become part of the establishment, while the skeptics have taken the insurgent role that environmentalists once exploited so well. As they became more and more involved in the process of formulating agreements and legislation to tackle global warming, talking to governments and attending negotiating conferences, leaders of the environmental movement have increasingly appeared to take public opinion for granted.

The problem with Lean’s logic is in that first sentence: environmental groups were “once brilliant at swaying public opinion” precisely because of scare tactics that prophesized eco-doom if immediate attention wasn’t paid to the environment. Exaggeration was enviro stock in trade. That was how mainstream green groups like the Sierra Club traditionally swelled membership rolls, by selling imminent eco-collapse.

And you know what, when a river catches on fire and oil is spilled off the coast of Santa Barbara and industrial toxic waste is leaching into groundwater, that doom and gloom campaign sells itself for a few years. After all,  you can see the unfolding disaster yourself. It’s visceral. But after a while, thanks to this green awakening in the public body, which spurs reform and new oversight institutions, the environment improves and not every new disaster suddenly feels like the end of the world.

But to keep those membership rolls inflated, green groups stayed with that numbing narrative of eco-catastrophe. At some point (early 1990s?), Americans became inured to the bad news drumbeat, be it about endangered species, old growth forests, or industrial runoff pollution.

There’s reasonable speculation by social scientists that the same thing might be happening again with respect to the incessant scaremongering by climate change advocates. So is Lean suggesting that Greens go back to those old tactics and double down on scaring the besjesus out of everyone? I don’t know. He just says Greens need to get a War Room so the planet doesn’t end up like John Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign.

7 Responses to “An Enviro War Room”

  1. oso loco says:

    Bad idea.  The Greens have been crying wolf for a long time – and now the wolf is here.  See: http://cubeantics.com/2009/12/the-proof-behind-the-cru-climategate-debacle-because-computers-do-lie-when-humans-tell-them-to/

  2. Steve Bloom says:

    “That was how mainstream green groups like the Sierra Club traditionally swelled membership rolls, by selling imminent eco-collapse.”  That’s arguably true for some other organizations, but not at all so for the Club.  Why make stuff up like this, Keith? 

    FYI, far and away the largest surges in Club membership were reactions to the early stages of the Reagan and Bush II administrations.  There was plenty of talk of environmental rapine, but claims of “imminent eco-collapse” were notably absent.    

  3. Keith Kloor says:

    No question that Reagan and W were good for environmental organizations, if not the environment.  But they had eight years of Clinton (yes, there was Gingrich to contend with) and what do you think Greens were selling then to attract members? And Sierra didn’t stuff its renewal membership envelopes with eco-doom appeals? C’mon.

  4. Hank Roberts says:

    You must have been getting very different mailings than any I saw, and I watched pretty closely.  The Sierra Club was pretty stodgy in most respects, most of the time.

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    Hank,

    I guess the only way to resolve this is to get out some of those old Sierra magazines, and try to dig up some of its advertising campaigns.

  6. Hank Roberts says:

    I seem to have recycled all my old magazines, but perhaps some journalist will take up the challenge and visit a library.  Perhaps there’s even a Library of Advertising somewhere — if not, there should be!

    I recommend another set of advertising worth revisiting — the ones from the lead industry while the concern about tetraethyl lead in gasoline was first rising.  I recall full page ads (likely Sci.Am. or the National Geographic) showing the edge of the asphalt and the green grass beside the road, going on about how all the lead from auto exhaust stayed within a few feet of the highway, and didn’t move into the environment.  Probably the 1950s.

    You want scary ads that got people involved in politics — look at the lead industry and tobacco ads from the 1950s.

  7. Steve Bloom says:

    Sorry, Keith, Hank is right.  I was paying far more attention than you to the Club over the last twenty years, being in leadership roles for most of that time, and your description just doesn’t fit.  Beyond that, such an approach wouldn’t have made sense for an organization with such an emphasis on lobbying (notwithstanding the semi-undeserved grassroots reputation).  Interestingly, even the Club’s recent emphasis on AGW only came about because of demands from the floor at a national convention.  National leadership didn’t want to go there and had actually rigged the agenda in an effort to prevent such an outcome.

    Even granting that the Club’s recent approach can be described as trying to swell its membership rolls by appealing to some sort of AGW eco-collapse, it’s clearly failed as membership has been in a slight but definite declining trend through that entire period.

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