Beyond Words

“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”       Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC)

“One of the most essential roles of the ecologist is to create the language in which a true sense of reality, of value, and of progress can be communicated to society.”      Thomas Berry   (1914 – 2009)


ecoAmerica’s most recent climate communications research, Climate and Energy Truths: Making the Necessary Connections has been featured in media ranging from The New York Times and The LA Times to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the
Wall Street Journal.


The coverage was unintentional – notes on the research were accidentally leaked to the media by a participant in a private briefing – and the ensuing reporting and commentary was based on incomplete, sometimes deliberately misconstrued interpretations of those notes.


We are correcting that situation by releasing the Climate and Energy Truths briefing report on the ecoAmerica website.


Why so much attention for an insider report on how to talk about climate? First and foremost, the impacts from our deteriorating atmosphere and the debate about how to solve the problem are front-page news.  The stakes are high, ranging from America’s economic leadership, prosperity and national security to the health of our families.


We are in the midst of making decisions about whether America will lead the way with clean, safe fuels of the 21st century that never run out, or continue our dangerous dependence on the dirty fuels of the past. We have led the world in just about every technological breakthrough over the past two centuries and America should be leading the way into the emerging new energy future. After all, we have our fair share of wind and sun here, and they don’t cost as much as oil and coal.


The climate and energy debate in America is mired in jargon, complex science, polarized politics and huge economic consequences.  Like the healthcare debate or the economic stimulus package, for most of us the details are beyond our ability to easily grasp. So the side that stands on the mountaintop of values will defeat the side that has to defend its specific positions, policies or fuel sources. We need to claim the high ground, play offense,
and let the other side play defense.


Now is the time for progress. We need to maximize the opportunity for climate and energy solutions, and this requires public support. The good news is that Americans support solutions, particularly when they can visualize them and when they are connected to benefits in their
daily lives.

Climate and Energy Truths was designed to support this process and help climate solutions advocates speak in ways that emotionally engage and inspire Americans – particularly
ambivalent swing voters. Speaking about climate and energy in language Americans clearly understand, that reflects widely shared values and aspirations, resonates very strongly across the political spectrum.

We need clear strategies for communicating the need to effectively address our climate and energy challenges.
Attitudes on these topics are highly malleable with good messaging.
Employing general themes, like “American leadership” or “clean
tech jobs” is not enough.  Starting with values, paying attention
to specific words and sequencing can make messages much more effective.

Oil and coal interests have taken advantage
of good communications research and employ it in their advertising.
They claim ownership of energy independence, comprehensive solutions,
and responsible treatment of the earth – things that they are, in
reality, opposed to. Environmentalists might not have great economic
credibility, but Americans believe them when they point out these inconsistencies.

We can also employ values-based messaging
in a truthful, authentic way, pointing out our clear distinctions versus
the legacy carbon interests.  They should be challenged to explain
how their policies foster what they claim amidst the reality of America’s
steadily increasing dependence on foreign oil and their almost exclusive
reliance on fossil fuels.

With our current climate and energy
issues, environmentalists stand firmly on the side of freedom, prosperity
and national security.   The real truth is that more effective
American solutions to the climate crisis lead to a more prosperous and
secure future.

So while progressives may not be completely
aligned on the specifics of the policy solutions, we share the same
goals.  The language we use to communicate those goals is extremely
important.  So, we encourage you to download and review Climate
and Energy Truths: Making the Necessary Connections

with an open mind.   Try the positioning and messages from
the report when you talk about climate and see how people respond.
The better we connect and communicate with Americans, the more success
we will have in achieving solutions.

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