You have been infected by fossil fuel companies. You are now spreading their infection. Please stop and wash your hands.
To understand why the environmental movement is losing, one has to understand how we are being manipulated by the fossil fuel industry. I’ve written about this subject in Messages From The Fossil Fuel Industry You’re Already Accepting.
But we also need to understand how our brain works to understand why it’s so easy to fall prey to their frames. Why is it you are actually helping Trump and fossil fuel companies spread their messages?
Most of thought is unconscious. The brain operates on metaphors. Short hand place holders for more complex ideas and thoughts. The brain remembers things and associates them when they are repeated. Synapses are re-enforced each time a word or phrase is repeated. So repetition is a key to messaging. Create a simple metaphor, and repeat it often enough, and your messaging will become successful. For example, “Make American Great Again.” (For a more thorough explanation see Lakoff’s, Don’t Think of and Elephant.)
The problem often occurs when attempting to refute a message that is not true. There are plenty of untruths from the current administration as well as fossil fuel companies.
For example, if I say that trade wars are not easy to win, what I am saying is factually true. But something happens in the brain when this is repeated. The use of the word “not” is over-ridden by the association of trade wars and win. Even though we deny the statement we are now associating trade wars and win over and over and over until those two words are associated in our collective conscious. Simply, “Trade wars = Win.”
One of my favorites, pushed by the fossil fuel industry, is “Clean Coal.” My first response is, “Wait a minute, coal is NOT clean.” I am joined by millions of others repeating this and eventually there are a large number of Americans that believe that either “Coal is Clean,” or that there is something called “Clean Coal.” Clean = good. Therefore, coal = good.
How about “Environmentalists are terrorists.” When I say, “Environmentalists are NOT terrorists,” I re-enforce the frame that they are.
Or “America is energy dominant.” Wait a minute, America imports 85% of our oil. We’re NOT energy dominant. Oops. You get the idea. But it’s easy to fall prey. The reaction comes so quickly. So what should one do?
The first step is to understand what works, and what entrenches the frame you are facing.
The second step is to stop reacting. Stop fighting the “Denial Frame.” Stop using the word “Not.” Pause, take a breath and then go to the next step.
The third step is to reframe in a positive or direct sense. For example, Tariffs are harmful. Or Coal is dirty. Or Renewables give us energy independence.
The last step is to make others aware of the purpose behind misleading language. Here’s where the media has fallen down. Perhaps it is collective guilt for giving us the current Whitehouse occupant, but they haven’t broken themselves of the habit. Instead, the media and environmentalist should be offering an explanation. For example, “When you repeatedly hear coal companies talk about clean coal, they are creating a frame to make us think that their product is safe. They do this because they want us to use more coal. They know their product is dirty, dangerous and unhealthy. Coal is dirty.”
Some of you may have noticed that I started this post with a frame. Fossil fuel companies are spreading an infectious disease. This equates to fossil fuel companies are bad. Let them play defense for a while. We’ve done this with tobacco companies. No one thinks smoking tobacco is cool or healthy anymore. So if we don’t think its healthy to breath smoke into our lungs, why would we put smoke into the air we breath?
We Are All Connected. Savor the Earth!
L. Hobart Stocking