Selling Climate Change

| Fri Jan. 22, 2010 1:49 PM EST

Ah, Frank Luntz, the evil genius of conservative wordsmithing. But wait! The one-time Republican wunderkind is no longer just a Republican, no longer all that young, sports a full beard to mask his youthful appearance, and even moved to California for a while. I think he's back in Virginia these days, but apparently we green-ified him while he was here, because he recently teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund to figure out the best way of selling the public on action to combat global warming. Kate Sheppard reports his advice: the public already believes in global warming, so just shut up about it:

So what should environmentalists say instead? Luntz suggests less talk of dying polar bears and more emphasis on how legislation will create jobs, make the planet healthier and decrease US dependence on foreign oil. Advocates should emphasize words like "cleaner," "healthier," and "safer";  scrap "green jobs" in favor of "American jobs," and ditch terms like "sustainability" and "carbon neutral" altogether. "It doesn't matter if there is or isn't climate change," he said. "It's still in America's best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean, reliable, efficient and safe."

Brad Plumer has more:

"You're fighting the wrong battle," he told the assembled group of advocates. People want to hear about "energy dependence on the Middle East" and "creating jobs that can't be shipped overseas" rather than "melting glaciers or polar bears."....Luntz insists that Americans would support a cap on carbon emissions — 80 percent of Dems, but also 43 percent of Republicans he surveyed are either definitely or pretty sure climate change is a problem that's caused in part by humans. But he doesn't believe cap-and-trade can pass as long as "it’s called ‘cap-and-trade,’ and all the messaging that’s been used against it. The title has become so demonized that they’ve got to come up with a new name.”

Well, that's not bad advice, though honestly, any new name would get demonized pretty quickly too. And of course liberals are hobbled by overscrupulous wonks — like me! — who really hate blathering on about "energy independence on the Middle East" since we know perfectly well that (a) nothing we do is going to change that and (b) it's not the real issue anyway. Besides, it also plays into the hands of the coal industry, which might be bound and determined to destroy the planet but will do so with a product that's as American as apple pie.

So this needs some thought. Should we accept a little bit of benign fudging and the possibility of emboldening the coal industry in return for better messaging? Or stick to our guns and give no quarter to King Coal? Hmmm.

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