What if the climate movement could anticipate the next move by the fossil fuel industry and their climate denying deceivers? What if we could get ahead of it, and perhaps create a move of our own?
For the past three years the climate movement has been particularly focused on resistance. But resistance is a tactic, not a great strategy. While it is a necessary tactic, it is reactive rather than proactive. If we are resisting, then we are on the defensive. We are reacting to someone else’s agenda. We are reacting to the tactics of our opposition. And it’s not working. Or working fast enough.
There is a naïve hope that if we can just get through the next year, then maybe things will get better. I would say that the odds are about even that nothing will change with the upcoming elections. I would also say that, if we think back, we’ve been resisting and on the back foot for the last 20 years. We can’t afford to do that for the next twenty.
This begs the question, what is a better strategy? And that’s the rub. Tactics are shorter term and strategies are more often longer term. When we don’t have a great strategy, then we tend to focus on the short term tactics, hoping something will change, or someone will save us. The urgency of now seems to preclude future strategies.
Longer term, the only way the climate movement can succeed is to proactively make its values and narratives more attractive than those we are resisting. In other words, tell better stories. That would constitute a different strategy, and a different set of tactics. Some resistance to the current frames might be required as a parallel tactic, but this shouldn’t predominant.
Let me tease strategy for another post, and go back to thinking about the resistance tactic in terms of language. What is the next piece of fossil fuel right wing propaganda or frame that the climate movement will face? Preparing for, and reframing those potential arguments now, in our own narrative, will help us prepare and persuade the public.
One way to do this is to look at the sequence of past frames, their impact, and then look where they are headed. The most famous frame sequence is the climate “change” frame:
- Global warming is just climate change. (Climate change is less specific and more innocuous.)
- The climate has always been changing.
- Because the climate has always been changing, it must be natural causes or cycles.
- If its natural causes, then its not our fault… etc.
What is the logical extension of this line of thinking? My biggest concern is that the next iteration will be the result of our climate movement’s current fear-based messaging. And that the climate movement will once again will be complicit. There is a trend to increase our fear levels as a catalyst for action. The idea is that we can scare people into action. If only people are scared witless, then they will act. For example, “We only have 12 years left,” or “there are irreversible thresholds that, once crossed, mean the end of life on earth.” Fear works to capture attention, but not to convert people to action. The consequences of fear are fatigue, apathy, disengagement and depression. But this is the direction we are headed.
So it is likely that the next con or frame to be promoted by fossil fuel sponsored think tanks will be: It’s too late, and since it’s too late, the only thing we can do is adapt. We will need to continue to use oil to make a transition for the our best chance at adaption. Otherwise we are toast. In other words, since, we are screwed and there is nothing we can do, the only thing we can do is live with it.
This is a “helplessness/strength” frame. i.e. You are helpless, we are strong. Follow us, and we will save you. It’s s subtle version of what the current Whitehouse occupant uses on a daily basis. This frame says, be afraid, only we can keep you safe. Like fundamentalism, its tenant is to strengthen group identity by creating and enemy from outside. In this case the enemy is climate change or those that want to minimize the impact of the climate crisis. They would have us believe the savior is America’s corporate fossil fuel industry, when indeed, they are responsible for the climate crisis we face.
No doubt the climate movement will call for adaptation. Why? First, because we are concerned with climate justice and what happens to our fellow humans and other living beings. Second, because we are screwed. But the trap in this reasoning is a false choice between continuing fighting or adapting. Like many false choices it will be presented as a binary choice. It’s not.
The climate crisis is a large amorphous problem with many different issues and solutions. It’s not binary. There is also no static endpoint to which we can adapt. So the answer must be, “All of the above.” We must increase our efforts to slow it by 100 fold, AND we must adapt where we can. It will be a matter of degrees, pun intended.
Just get ready for the helplessness and fatalism frame to slow us down. There are those that want you to surrender and just give up. They want this because it will extend their profits for a few years. They want this because they think they can buy absolutions and escape climate catastrophe. They are deceptive. They are defeatist. Their ideas are bankrupt. They are weak and they are cowardly. They are the same fossil fuel industry and their right wing politicians that say the climate is always changing, or it’s too late.
Let’s be aware of this new frame and replace it with our own, rather than fight it. Now is the time to start building our own positive frames, watch for false choices, and remember who is presenting the false choice.
We are building a world for our children. A world with climate justice, food security, clean air, clean water, and healthy renewable energy. It’s time to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking