Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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Convincing the unconvinced.

Anyone in Washington who’s gearing up to promote a new energy package or climate change policy to the American people should read the BBC news story “Why do people often vote against their own interests?“

Anyone in Washington who’s gearing up to promote a new energy package or climate change policy to the American people should read the BBC news story “Why do people often vote against their own interests?“

Anyone among the public who’s concerned about the log jam in Washington, how nothing can ever get done, should read the article as well.

The news story looks at the health care debate in the US, but an energy and climate change debate could get just as ugly. For instance, the story asks “Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?” and “Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?”

Similar questions could be asked about energy and climate. Why do people buy oil from nations that are opposed to American ideals? Why aren’t people concerned about long term changes in the weather when an unprecedented storm can ruin their lives?

In summary, the authors quoted in the story say that people generally don’t trust politicians, they don’t trust facts, figures and policy wonks, and they prefer a straightforward, folksy , funny story even if it’s wrong.

The message has to change, if any progress is to be made mitigating climate change or weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, oil and coal in particular.

At the top, from Washington, energy and climate bills have to be rethought that benefit everyone. That is, if people and businesses can’t either save or make money from cutting carbon emissions, the legislation is doomed for failure. It was a mistake for Obama to say that cap and trade would increase people’s utility bills. (Or whatever the exact quote was.) He can always do a complete flip and say cutting emissions can help save people money. (It can, by the way.)

But since Washington is generally mistrusted, selling the American public on a plan to cut fossil fuels and emissions has to come from organizations, businesses, pundits as well as person-to-person. Face-to-face, friend-to-friend is probably the best way.

Sometimes a quick quip in passing conversation with a friend or colleague is more effective than a long dialogue. Any conversation can turn to energy and climate at any time. Believers need to be ready to answer skeptics with a with swift but effective response:

— On buying imported oil: “I don’t like the idea of supporting countries that don’t share our ideals.”

— On buying imported oil: “I’d rather see the $800 million a day sent overseas for imported oil stay at home creating jobs.”

— On cutting electricity consumption: “I’d rather keep my money than give it to utilities.”

— On home renewable energy: “I’d like the independence of generating my own juice.”

— On driving small, efficient cars: “At least little cars can be fun to drive, easy to park.”

— On not driving a fuel hog: “I don’t need that much car.” (or truck or SUV)

— On adding insulation at home: “I like a warm, snug house. The more insulation the better.”

— On using mass transit: “Like they say, let someone else do the driving.”

— On driving a hybrid: ”Cutting edge!”

— On the buildup of greenhouse gases: “Well, it doesn’t surprise me. The atmosphere is so thin.”

— On global warming in general: “You know, a degree warmer doesn’t sound like much, but it makes the difference between ice and water, glaciers or running water.”

— On radio and TV pundit comments: “I’d rather read what people have to say. I wish they’d back up their remarks in print.”

— On stronger hurricanes: “I hope that isn’t true. Unfortunately only time will tell.”

— On rising oceans: “Me, I prefer not to live too close to the water, just in case.”

— On climate mitigation: “We need a good dose of good ol’ American ingenuity to figure this one out. I think we can.”

— On emissions in general: “Where does all that stuff from tailpipes and smokestacks go, anyway?

— On new energy technologies: “You’ve gotta love the entrepreneurial spirit.”

The above may stop the conversation in its tracks. Or not. Be ready.

Both energy and climate are complicated issues that need to be dealt with. But people seem to want simple answers. “Why now?” they asked on health care. “Why now?” they’ll ask on energy and climate. On those questions the message needs to change. It needs to tell a better story. And soon.


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