Climate Activists Are Lousy Salesmen

Wall Street Journal - Stewart Easterby*

From turgid battle cries to hypocritical spokesmen, it’s no wonder they turn so many Americans off.
Illustration: Phil Foster
Politicians, bureaucrats, activists, scientists and the media have warned Americans for decades that the Earth is headed toward climate catastrophe.
Yet surveys consistently show that less than half of U.S. adults are “deeply concerned” or “very worried” about climate issues.
If, as Leonardo DiCaprio insists, climate change is the “most urgent threat facing our entire species,” why do a large percentage of Americans not share his fear? Climate crusaders tend to lay fault with nonbelievers’ intransigence.
But this is its own form of denial and masks the real reason: poor salesmanship.
The promotional efforts of the climate catastrophists have lacked clarity, credibility, and empathy. These are the cornerstones of effective persuasion.
Successful advocacy campaigns use lucid names to frame and sell their issues—“living wage,” “welfare queen” or “death tax.” Climate can be confounding; it is long-term weather, but environmentalists chide anyone who dares call it that.
Since Earth’s climate is always fluctuating, the word “change” muddles it with redundancy. Swapping between “climate change” and “global warming” confuses the public.
A good battle cry can rally the troops, but the Paris Agreement’s aim is “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
That is a far cry from “Remember the Alamo!” And Americans are always turned off by the use of metric units. In the U.S., Toyota wisely markets the 2018 Prius’s fuel economy as 52 miles a gallon, not 22 kilometers a liter.
American TV audiences bought Carl Sagan’s explanations of how the universe works because of his obvious scientific expertise. Bold statements about complex systems are always more plausible when they are made by people with impeccable credentials. As a Harvard sophomore, Al Gore received a D in a natural=sciences course. Mr. DiCaprio dropped out of high school in 11th grade.
The rank hypocrisy of many of the environmental movement’s superstars also alienates potential followers. Messrs. Gore and DiCaprio lead lavish, jet-setting lives. It is hard to heed Tom Steyer’s demand to ban offshore oil and gas drilling when Farallon, his hedge fund, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in coal mining.
Climate change activists tend to be aggressive advocates, but over-the-top selling doesn’t sway people who are undecided. This is as true for political surrogates attributing society’s ills to the other party’s candidate as it is for green activists linking all manner of extreme weather to climate change.
Scientific impropriety has triggered a popular backlash against the climate change activists.
The hockey stick chart, Climategate and questions about the integrity of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate data have all fueled public suspicion. Only 39% of Americans believe climate scientists can be trusted a lot to give full and accurate information on causes of climate change according to Pew.
Failed forecasts diminish believability. A Wall Street firm with multiple wrong market calls would lose clients. The actual rate of warming has come in below what climate models projected, casting doubt on future calculations.
 Likewise, claims that anyone can precisely estimate what global average temperatures will be decades from now don’t pass muster with the average person. There are currently no betting odds for Super Bowl CX in 2076 or S&P 500 futures with December 2099 expiration dates.
The burden of proof in the climate debate lies with those claiming rising temperatures stem primarily from human activity and not other factors. While the prosecution may feel it has a winning case, the jury’s verdict is what counts.
Labeling dissenting jurors “deniers”—an insidious association with Holocaust denial—is a losing courtroom strategy. Most people are naturally disinclined to obsess daily about a phenomenon that started long before they were born and won’t reach fruition until long after they die.
It’s true that almost all climate scientists believe human-caused global warming is real. Similarly, American adults understand that expert opinions can change or turn out to be spectacularly wrong. Think of the recently overturned consensus on the link between egg consumption and coronary heart disease, or the reports during the 1970s that a new ice age was imminent.
Against this backdrop, calling skeptics “anti-science” is counterproductive, especially since skepticism is the essence of the scientific method.
From 2006 to 2016, China increased its annual carbon dioxide emissions 37% while America’s yearly output decreased far more than any other country. In the Paris Agreement, China pledged to begin reducing emissions around 2030, meaning it can spew even more greenhouse gas for years to come. The U.S. vowed to reduce its 2025 emissions by 28% from 2005 levels.
Yet questioning if the accord is fair to America or will forestall global warming is reliably met with sanctimonious scorn.
My advice to the activists is this: you will attract more supporters to your cause if you can pick a name and stick with it, create a clear call to action, enlist a convincing spokesman with a small carbon footprint, tone down the alarmism, and fix the computer models.
Most important, listen to the doubters, don’t lambaste them.

*Stewart Easterby has worked as a sales executive for three publicly traded technology companies.


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