Repeat after me

In a former life I was a journalist for a national radio news program. Stories about the environment were always difficult to put on air. Whether the topic was rainforests, pollution, ozone, endangered species or one of so many other things that falls to the Environment Desk, we always struggled to make it sound interesting and relevant. The truth is, it’s very difficult to get most people to care.

The same is true in the political realm. And so the messaging is critical. The recent paper by pollster Frank Luntz *The Language of a Clean Energy Economy* should be read by progressive politicians everywhere. More importantly, its findings should be adopted.

Luntz is generally regarded as an evil genius Republican message maestro, so his advice on how to pitch energy legislation to the broad public is all the more well-taken. Some of the phrases that resonate best with people surveyed:

> It doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t climate change. It is still in America’s best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean reliable, efficient and safe.

And:

> As a matter of principle, we must take this opportunity to use the emerging new energy economy to create jobs and careers right here in America, not overseas.

You might think this sounds like a Thomas Friedman column. That’s because it does. As I read Luntz’s work, it’s clear to me just how spot on Friedman is with his language when he talks about the imperative for investment in new energy technologies.

Luntz shows us that there are themes in climate and energy legislation that unite Democrats and Republicans. “Freeing the US from foreign oil” and “American jobs” are dominant themes that all people support. (Interestingly, “green jobs” performs terribly when set next to American/permanent/high paying/skilled/future-proof jobs.)

But before they can get to talking about the benefits of legislation, politicians and media take a long tedious detour (via cable TV newsrooms, among others) to discuss/opine/shout about the mechanics of policy and regulation. And it’s a big turn-off. As David Roberts puts it, “The public hates sausage-making and back-room dealing; they hate vituperative disputes over mechanisms and statistics.”

Next time you’re chatting with somebody and find yourself making the case for legislation, remember these four things:

– Energy independence
– American jobs
– Cleaner, healthier air
– Corporate accountability

President Obama will shortly deliver his first State of the Union address. Has Obama’s speechwriter read Luntz’s study, I wonder?

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pete

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  1. Ed - January 27, 2010

    I think you can reasonably throw a “Support the Troops” message in there too. If we conserve oil by driving more fuel efficient car and drive them at 55 mph on the highway, we reduce demand for that Middle Eastern oil. Plus we save money, that we can use to buy American products and services (or save so we can buy American products and services after we have retired). And if we reduce American demand for oil, we will keep more of our own oil in the ground, which will put us in a better position vis a vis the rest of the world in the future. If we just happen to be reducing our carbon output, well … oops.
    So yeah, we should be able to frame the message in *smart* patriotic terms. If Democrats can force themselves to utter the words “support the troops”.

  2. Dawn - January 27, 2010

    I believe Democrats do support the troops where ever they are sent. They have a job to do. What the majority of people do not support is the war. That message was loud and clear in the last Presidential election. Even if the vote was 50/50 Republicans do not seem to realize that it means that 1 out of every 2 people they talk to voted for President Obama, because SOMETHING has to change. It’s not easy to walk in and clean up, it will take more than 4 years that’s for sure. As Americans we let this get out of hand and now we have to buck up and fix it.

  3. michael - January 27, 2010

    You picked one word that, in my experience, points to a huge hurdle for the environment – policy.
    Policy flows from the top down and has to trickle thru so many hands and ears before becoming diluted in its action. In addition, policy is typically too far from the problems it attempts to heal.
    Solutions should come from the bottom with the understanding that there may not be a blueprint that works everywhere and this is my problem with ‘policy’.
    I have no argument with the message…just with how it morphs into action…and when. We do not have the luxury of time.

  4. Mike - January 27, 2010

    I am not a big climate change (man caused) believer since I don’t think the science is settled and don’t believe having government bureaucrats sign on to an idea means that they qualify as scientists. That said, I believe we need to develop alternate sources of energy, make use of new power technologies and get us off foreign sources of power.
    This is a national security issue, future generations issue and economic issue. I have had quite a few vocal disagreements with “climate changers” and yet I try to point out that you don’t need climate change to do the right thing for our country (and even our world).
    This is a common idea that unites climate changers with “deny-ers” like me.
    Now, you will have to figure out how to move forward without growing the size/power of government and then you will see total support.

  5. David - January 27, 2010

    This isn’t rocket science. A more efficient America is a more secure America, both militarily and economically.

  6. Adam Eran - January 27, 2010

    Excellent points. Not mentioned is the completely uncontroversial observation that U.S. domestic oil production peaked in 1971 (price: $1.75/bbl, 30% of consumption was imports).
    Currently: $40 – $140/bbl, 70% imported.
    Unless we want to continue to have resource wars, and continue to spend more than the rest of the world combined on our military (in at least 144 countries overseas, many of our troops on pipeline duty)… We’ll have to come to terms with making energy efficiency part of our national economy.
    For those concerned about the “We’ll have to become third world peasants to conserve enough,” another interesting stat: RMI’s Amory Lovins says that Europe and Japan produce a dollar of GDP with half the energy expenditure of the U.S.

  7. michael - January 27, 2010

    An interesting question – I am not alone here – how much oil do our armed forces consume a day abroad? Are we reimbursed for our liberating expenses?
    I know the picture above is a much bigger one and a lot of young foks are dying…but within the finer context of oil consumption and related pollution the question must have some validity…

  8. James - January 27, 2010

    I concur with much of Luntz’s ideas. I do think, however, that civil society must change to dramatically environmentally-friendly living and technologies, not just because it is self-serving, but because it is the right thing to do. After all, we have only one home planet, right?

  9. Don - January 28, 2010

    Michael:
    We are most certainly _not_ reimbursed for our “liberation expenses”. Quite the opposite: we will be obligated to years or decades of foreign aid after we leave Iraq.
    Another point (completely undiscussed nationally): we only get about 30% of our oil from the volatile Middle East, oil which has cost us far more than the $140/barrel peak when “liberation expenses” are included.
    If we all took the simple step of driving the currently available hybrid cars, we would drop our oil consumption by 50% tomorrow. We could literally bring the troops home, close the myriad decades-old military bases across the Middle East, and reap incalculable financial and national security rewards. Let the countries “over there” govern, squabble, drill, and sell their oil as they choose. The uncounted tens/hundreds of billions of dollars (and thousands of lives) spent on projecting massive military force halfway across the planet would stop. Immediately.
    Or we can just continue driving SUV’s with “drill, baby, drill!” on the bumper like my neighbors, keep projecting (6 mpg?) up-armored Humvees across the globe – it IS a democracy – we get to choose.

  10. Anonymous - January 30, 2010

    I am a democrat & I have always supported the troops. My grandfather was in charge of PT repair in the South Pacific. I work with Senior Citizens, many of whom are Vets. I also work with the some survivors of the nazi death camps.
    Many of my fellow dems don’t care for my ideas of mandatory service, even though I include Peace Corp. , Habitat for Humanity & Red Cross in my ideas of service.
    Republicans wont have me because of my views on Civil Rights, such as my gay child being equal to my straight child.
    Nuff said

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