I get a hundred climate emails a day. Most of them are issues-based. For example, I recently read that the Trump administration has rolled back, or in the process of rolling back 108 environmental/climate regulations. Each of these is an issue in itself. All of these rollbacks combined are also an issue. So I guess that makes 109 potential emails I could get.
Each email is accompanied by an earnest desperate message with a list of reasons why that particular issue is bad, perhaps a potential solution, and a call to action. They are overwhelming. They make me angry. I rarely read these anymore and delete most of them. I even admit to a smug satisfaction that I have a clean inbox. Not the result the senders were hoping for.
As climate communicators, why are we so obsessed with responding to each climate issue by itself? Isn’t there a better way? Yes, there is.
The answer lies in the difference between issue-based and values-based campaigns.
The environmental and climate movements don’t have enough resources to respond to every issue that arises. We are under-resourced, overworked and don’t have enough time. Yet we persist in churning out issue-based campaigns because we believe awareness and reason alone will convince people to act. Sometimes they do, but not often enough.
The typical environmental or climate issue-based campaign has these three steps.
The idea behind these campaigns is to activate anger around a problem or issue, then define a narrow solution, and finally develop the strategy and tactics to support the campaign. Often the result we get is fatigue and disengagement. Occasionally, we win one of these campaigns. The problem is there are dozens of others that we don’t.
Instead, there is another more successful approach. It is the values-based campaign. It looks like this.*
By beginning with core-shared values and identifying a violation of these values, then showing how we can aspire and activate hope for a larger change, this kind of campaign allows us to change the narrative and actually provides a platform for working on multiple issues.
An example of a values-based campaign is Black Lives Matter. It is terrible enough that unarmed black Americans are being shot by police. This is a terrifying issue. But it is the violation of the value of sanctity and dignity of life, no matter where we come from, the color of our skin or what’s in our wallets that make this campaign universal. Black Lives Matter invokes a vision of a future where we can walk our streets without fear because of the mutual respect and trust of our fellow citizens. The solutions of police training and body-cams are insufficient in themselves to solve this issue. But a change in our values and hearts will. Activating these values in others that hold conflicting feelings on both sides of this issue is key to moving them to our position.
But here’s the bonus. Since Black Lives Matter has campaigned on core values, they can now also address the issue of mass incarceration under the same campaign. The same values are being violated. And what about the impact of the COVID-19 on people of color? At its simplest level, the message becomes… we are in this together because we respect the sacredness and dignity of life. Those that use fear to divide us, do it for the purpose of control or money. We can envision a society where, regardless of our race, where we come from, or how we look, we are treated with the fairness we deserve.
Our climate and environmental campaigns are similar. We can’t play Whack-A-Mole with every issue that pops up and succeed. Instead we need to show the violation of our values and a respect for the earth and all life. The climate crisis is caused by the greed of a few corporate fossil fuel executives and politicians. We need to create a compelling and inclusive vision of a future for our kids that is sustainable, clean and healthy. And while we are at it, look at how the dog-whistle politics of immigration, race and environment are connected by violation of similar values.
Imagine waking up to another new climate or environmental issue. Only this time, experts agree on the causes, citizens and legislators get behind it, and we work together to solve it because more of us support the same values. If this sounds appealing, here are five questions for your next campaign.
- What values do you support?
- How are those values being violated?
- Why are they being violated?
- What solution and vision will overcome this violation?
- How can others support those values through action?
By following a values-based narrative campaign instead of an issues-based campaign, it may feel like we are ignoring the tyranny of the now. But it sets up longer term victories over a broader set of issues by persuading those on the fence to identify with our universal values. Or we can continue to play Whack-A-Mole.
*Acknowledgement: grassroots policy.org
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking
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