By Bob Perkowitz
According to a recent poll, 83 percent of Americans say the United States should try to address climate change even if it has economic costs. Yet Americans also continue to rank climate change far below other concerns, like health care and the economy. What’s going on? How can Americans recognize the need to address climate change, but not see it as a priority for the country?
This is the exact question that we pondered several years ago at ecoAmerica, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on addressing climate and environmental issues through social science and marketing research and strategic partnerships.
To find the answer, we decided to invite the perspectives of leaders across the nation who approach climate change from a range of fields and sectors. In 2010, just after the defeat of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, we convened business, health care, faith, environmental and higher education leaders, as well as social scientists, funders and elected officials, at a national summit to discuss the steps we’d need to take in order to translate Americans’ recognition of climate change as a problem into a concerted effort toward solutions.
Two summits later, we arrived at a framework for a solution. What if we brought together some of the most respected voices from across sectors in the United States and helped them harness their collective influence to change the national conversation about climate change to focus less on gloom and doom, and more on solutions? Out of this framework emerged MomentUs, a new strategic organizing initiative designed to grow mainstream support for climate solutions in the United States.
This past week, we held another leadership summit organized expressly around MomentUs and the potential for national leaders to transform the the conversation on climate in America. More than 140 national leaders from across five key sectors–health, higher education, business, faith and local government–as well as climate funders, environmental leaders and leading social science researchers–joined us in Chicago for a day of strategic conversation about how they can individually and collectively leverage their unique influence to engage ordinary Americans.
Key leaders in attendance included Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, and Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
Perhaps the biggest point of convergence was the need for a new narrative on climate change. We need to clarify that climate change is not just an issue for environmentalists. Rather, it’s an issue that will affect–and in many cases already has–our health, our infrastructure, and our bottom lines. The leaders were clear, however, that this new narrative should not motivate with fear. Instead, we need to inspire hope by communicating a positive, concrete vision of a future that connects to deeply held American values like patriotism, freedom, and prosperity.
We also need the programs and infrastructure that will allow Americans to work towards solutions in their homes, businesses, congregations, neighborhoods, schools, and legislatures. We need to relate climate change to issues that people are already working on, from disaster preparedness to efforts to create healthier, happier communities. We need to fold solutions into the fabric of our communities, our economy, and our daily lives.
MomentUs will help fill these gaps and facilitate this transition toward a new narrative of climate change. It will continue to build relationships across sectors and provide leaders with the tools they need to reshape how Americans think, feel, and act on climate.
The Summit was just one step on a much longer path to accomplish these goals. Our work is far from over. But by starting with people, linking leaders, and empowering America’s leaders with what they need to effect change, we may be able to catalyze a new tide on climate change that will lift climate change to where it belongs–at the top of our nation’s list of priorities.
We’re always looking for more leaders to contribute their talents and energies to this national effort. To learn more about MomentUs or to get involved, please visit momentus.org.
Bob Perkowitz is the Founder and President of ecoAmerica, a nonprofit that uses research and strategic partnerships to grow the base of popular support for climate solutions in America. Over the past 25 years, Mr. Perkowitz has been President of direct marketing and manufacturing organizations with revenues reaching $600 million, including Cornerstone Brands, Smith+Noble, and Joanna Western Mills. Mr. Perkowitz also serves on the boards of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Defense Fund of North Carolina, and World Bicycle Relief. He also served a Trustee of the Sierra Club Foundation from 2001-2007.