The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change: Don't Talk About Climate Change
Republican pollster Frank Luntz—the brains behind Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" and the man who coined politically potent phrases like the "death tax"—wants to help environmentalists in their push for legislation to combat climate change. His advice? Stop talking about climate change.
The environmental community is "fighting the wrong battle," Luntz announced on Thursday at an event to mark the release of a new report by his polling firm, The Word Doctors, outlining strategies to help marshal public support for a climate bill. "The least important component of climate change is climate change."
Luntz's report, "The Language of a Clean Energy Economy," finds that the majority of the public across the political spectrum is convinced that global warming is happening and caused at least in part by humans. But, Luntz says, talking about the problem won't win support for the legislation that would solve it. Among both Democrats and Republicans polled by his firm, addressing climate change was the least important reason to support a cap-and-trade policy.
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."
Luntz isn't the first public opinion expert to suggest this course of action—but until recently he was better known among environmentalists for furnishing the GOP with sophisticated strategies to kill any prospect of climate action during the Bush years. In 2002 Luntz authored an influential memo advising Republicans to green their public image while sowing public confusion about global warming. Republicans should "continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate" because otherwise, he warned, "[s]hould the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly." Two Bush initiatives that were vintage Luntz: the timber-industry-friendly "Healthy Forests Initiative" and the "Clear Skies Act" that loosened restrictions on polluters.