Rebranding of the Climate Crisis Underway

The last year has seen a couple of high-profile disappointments for climate change action. First there was “climategate,” the theft of emails from UK scientists purporting to show distortion of data in defense of global warming predictions. That controversy seriously discredited the tactic of talking about global warming as looming Armageddon, and is still brought up by public figures looking to discredit renewable energy and the like.

Then there was Copenhagen, which failed to produce a binding document on carbon mitigation. All of this as polls show fewer and fewer Americans believe global warming is a threat.

The bad PR has many climateers reconsidering their approach to convincing the general population of the urgency of change.

Nowhere is this new zeitgeist more apparent than in the first post of Andrew Revkin’s new opinion blog for the New York Times. Revkin is one of the most well-respected journalists writing on climate change; he covered the issue for the Times from 1995 to 2009, and is now a Senior Fellow at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies.

Revkin starts his post by outlining the very real dangers we all face due to our use of fossil fuels and high rates of consumption, but then follows with this:

Nonetheless, if I had to choose one of two bumper stickers for our car —CLIMATE CRISIS or ENERGY QUEST — I’d choose the latter. This doesn’t mean I reject the idea that we face a climate crisis. I just don’t think that phrase is a productive way to frame this challenge, particularly as defined over the last few years in the heated policy debate.

Revkin goes on to define that energy quest as “an active, positive assertion that the ways we harvest and use energy — an asset long taken for granted and priced in ways that mask its broader costs — really do matter.”

Climate change change

Revkin is not the only high-profile proponent of a new way of packaging climate policy. The Obama administration and Congressional leaders have realized that if they want to pass any sort of carbon mitigation legislation they will have to repackage it as an economic challenge, rather than an impending disaster that many people have trouble conceptualizing — even those that should know better (weather forecasters). Thus talk of “energy security” instead of global warming, “green jobs” instead of cap-and-trade.

The new path is showing real results: as I write this, a bipartisan group of senators continues to work on a new energy policy for America that includes carbon reduction strategies, and has the best chance of passing both houses of Congress than any such legislation so far.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.