Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Climate Change: Brand or Be Branded

By Jen Alic of Oilprice.com*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

SERAJEVO (IDN) - It is very difficult to understand the climate change denial platform on a purely philosophical and scientific level. Climate change is a rather obvious aspect of the history of the Earth and clearly man interacts with climate in an increasingly dynamic manner. That this is even debated appears on the surface to be not a little ridiculous – somewhere on the level of discussing whether the Earth is round or flat.

It is the semantics of it all, which, when combined with politics and the necessary religio-political elements, muddies the waters. For partisan policy camps, it is probably beneficial that the average reader doesn't really have a clue what anyone means when they say "climate change", and throwing "global warming" into the mix only adds to the general confusion.

But here, scientists, climate change activist elite and environmental officials reading this will say that this is simplifying matters and that the real debate is not whether the climate is changing but the scale of that change as a result of our own actions. The debate, on this level, is about numbers, and it is sufficiently vague to render it a convenient instrument of politics. To this climate change elite, both "deniers" and "believers", there is only one thing to say: You have not brought the debate to the masses in a coherent way.

Acceptance camp and deniers

On both sides of the divide, the public relations campaign has been a complete fiasco, and this is clearly illustrated by asking the average person what they think about climate change or global warming – an answer that invariably depends on the weather at the particular moment the question is asked.

From the media-duping "Climategate scandal" in 2009 to the "Unabomber Believes in Global Warming" campaign that bestowed its intelligence on us this year, we are led to understand only that our elite are not up to the challenge of rational arbitration.

Those pushing for recognition that climate change is something that should be a major concern, and even a national security threat, have painfully mismanaged their efforts. Politicians do not understand scientists, and scientists clearly have no acumen for talking to the media, whose pull-quote analysis seeks maximum damage and entertainment.

The way "climate change" has been handled by the "acceptance" camp in terms of public awareness has accomplished nothing other than to brand the idea as something only "hippies" believe in, something "alarmist" and not grounded in reality.

On the other side of the divide, the "deniers" camp has been equally adept at failure, leading to the branding of those who do not "believe" in climate change, or even those who have unanswered questions, as enemies of the Earth, right-wing Conservatives with no respect for the environment and on the payroll of corporations. Both cry conspiracy. Anyone who falls in between these two groups, and invariably this is the larger percentage, is entirely sidelined and branded at will by the other two.

Unfair to the average citizen

These brandings are terribly unfair to the average citizen. To assume that people who fancy themselves Republicans have no respect for environmentally friendly activities is beyond wide of the mark. Likewise, to assume that those who fancy themselves Democrats are concerned with nothing short of destroying big business to further their naturalistic aims is also far from the truth.

The truth is that the average American, across political divides, is genuinely concerned about the environment and would naturally be concerned about the implications of climate change had it not been hijacked by politics.

With this in mind, it will be interesting to watch the drama unfold over the latest campaign fiasco undertaken by the incentivized "deniers". In late May, the Heartland Institute, the driver of climate change denial whose aim is not educating the masses but supporting insurance companies and big business, launched a billboard campaign featuring Unabomber Ted Kacynzki as a true believer in global warming. The bizarre logic underpinning this campaign was apparently that murderers, tyrants, terrorists and the like are the sort of people who believe in things like global warming (no longer, apparently, the sole purview of hippies).

The result of this hard-hitting campaign was not exactly what the Heartland Institute expected. Even its staunchest supporters recognized that it had crossed the line of no return. The institution split, with a sizable chunk of its members forming a new faction in an effort at damage control. Corporations not wishing to be taken to task for their alignment with Heartland withdrew a total of $825,000 in funding. Republican government supporters threatened to sideline the organization entirely if it failed to remove the offensive billboard campaign directly.

It was not a very cleverly calculated move on Heartland’s part, however amusing the campaign may seem to the cynical (and let’s admit it, it was mildly amusing, but in an unconstructive and unintelligent sort of way). The question topmost on everyone’s mind now is whether Heartland’s bad taste and its reputational dive will translate into any sort of victory for the climate change "believers" camp. If it does, it will be a hollow victory at best and as long as the “believers” insist on what can only be described as inaccessible advocacy and a penchant for delegitimizing anyone who asks questions.

Hostage to political and corporate whims

The public’s choice on climate change is based entirely on a lack of information and disinformation. As long as the subject remains hostage to political and corporate whims, we can only expect more along the lines of the Unabomber.

The best thing to happen to climate change recently is the Obama administration's very public push to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil – an endeavour that can only be achieved through renewable energy efforts. This is effectively reframing the climate change debate in terms that the intellectually vulnerable masses can understand. That said, as far as those masses are concerned, this will only happen if it can be monetized to their satisfaction.

Any climate change debate will necessarily have to be brought to the masses in a way that is translated in the only terms that have any sway: How it will affect their pocketbook in the immediate and near future. Ask anyone on the street. They will tell you they are happy to support any environmental efforts as long as it’s cheaper to do so than not.

*Jen Alic is a geopolitical analyst and the former editor-in-chief of ISN Security Watch in Zurich. This article is being republished by arrangement with OILPRICE.COM which carried it on June 6, 2012. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IDN or its editorial board. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 11, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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