The Republican messaging guru who coined the term “climate change”, advising U.S. President George W. Bush that it sounded more uncertain and less threatening than “global warming”, is getting more vocal with his advice on how to build public support for climate action.
Resilience.org traces the final step in Frank Luntz’s conversion to the 2017 Skirball wildfire in December 2017, which nearly destroyed his home in Los Angeles.
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“Since then, the GOP messaging master has stopped minimizing the problem of global heating and has instead decided to do the opposite—to try to help activists raise the alarm,” Resilience reports, citing a report on Grist.org. “In a Senate hearing this year featuring conservatives who support climate action, Luntz promised to help the Democrats on the climate committee, provided that they put ‘policies ahead of politics’ and commit to non-partisan solutions.”
In an earlier phase of his epic shift, Luntz began advising the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund on effective language to promote clean energy alternatives. Based on focus group research, his pitch was that “positive language wins…EVERY TIME”. Resilience cites this sample: “Imagine a future where energy in the U.S. is abundant, affordable, and clean. Imagine feeling secure knowing that our nation can produce its own energy instead of relying on Middle Eastern oil. Imagine an economic boom that creates high-paying, permanent American jobs. We don’t have to imagine it—clean, safe energy already exists. All we have to do is use it. So let’s start. Now.”
Luntz still thinks climate action should be reframed as a “no-regrets” strategy, producing legislation that would deliver cleaner air, cleaner water, less dependence on foreign fuels, enhanced national security, and more innovation in our economy. “And that’s if the scientists are wrong,” he said. “If the scientists are right, we get all of those things and begin to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental problem that any of us have ever faced…That’s why it’s the right thing to do.”
For U.S. audiences, at least, he advises climate advocates to talk about:
• Cleaner, safer, healthier instead of sustainable/sustainability;
• Solving climate change instead of ending global warming;
• Principles and priorities instead of values;
• Reliable technology or energy instead of groundbreaking or state-of-the-art;
• New careers instead of new jobs;
• Peace of mind instead of security;
• Consequences instead of threats or problems;
• Working together instead of references to “one world”.
Looks and sounds like bafflegab to me.
What struck me as I worked on the story was…it’s actually not bad messaging advice for getting out beyond the “bubble” of people who are already engaged with the climate crisis, which is something I’m convinced we very badly need to do. Even if it means Frank Luntz is suddenly, somehow an ally…