“We can no longer tolerate Republican’s bankrupt delay on climate.”
Do you get an image or feeling on the quality of their delay from this sentence? If we want our ideas to spread, we must use words that create images and feelings and connect them to stories and narratives already in our brains. These are called frames. In this case, I’m trying to frame their delay and lack of action with the word bankrupt, and to a lessor extent tolerate. We all have an idea of what bankruptcy means. It connects with the story and metaphor of bad choices. It activates a neural pathway in the brain that already exists and doesn’t need explaining.
In A Few Positive Words for Climate Activists, I outlined how the Right Wing GOPAC memo started their decline of name calling and ad hominem attacks. It’s worth a reread of this post. In it, I suggest a set of words and frames that are positive and can create a vision for our communications on climate. I recommended that we avoid the negative and hopefully rise above the ad hominem attack language of the Right.
I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why….
A political characteristic of Liberals and Climate Activists is to focus on issues and try to let facts and reason persuade people on climate policy. This doesn’t work and hasn’t for 30 years. Instead, we’ve let the Right define the narrative and frame us into defending against it. In the broad political sense, think voter fraud or CRT. No amount of argument overcomes these frames. It actually strengthens them.
A typical climate example is, “Windmills cause cancer.” Calling a wind turbine a windmill frames wind turbines as quaint toys or insufficient. Never mind the factual argument that some of these elegant machines are over 300 feet high and generate 6 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year, enough to power 1500 homes. You won’t remember these facts because facts don’t resonate. Associating wind turbines with cancer frames them as personally deadly.
But ‘we’ Liberals and Climate Activists can’t resist correcting this frame by saying “Wind turbines don’t cause cancer.” This re-enforces the frame by strengthening the neural connections in the brains of your audience between windmills and cancer. All we hear is windmills and cancer. Instead, we should just make direct statements about wind energy. i.e. Wind energy is clean. Wind energy is our lowest cost energy.
The question I am now asking is, are positive words enough to counter negative words? My answer is no. At least with respect to the quality of the ideas on the Right.
As climate activists, progressives and liberals, we don’t like to call people bad names. Sometimes this feels good, but it is likely to alienate anyone we might want to attract. We are afraid to hurt people’s feelings, and we are afraid they might call us bad names. But let’s face it, they are already are calling us bad names (pedophiles, traitors, woke). Failing to call out their bankrupt ideas on climate will be deadly for us, our families, and our children.
It’s sometimes hard to separate bad ideas from bad people. They can certainly overlap. But since we don’t want to offend anyone, we wind up saying nothing. This is a form of surrender.
One way to overcome this aversion is to frame the quality of their ideas rather than the person. Trump Republicans have no policy, no platform, no ideas for moving our country forward. This is a vulnerability. Their only accomplishment is to give tax cuts to the rich and block or delay every other attempt at progress. This is especially true in the area of climate and energy. Think Joe Manchin (D-WVa). One of the reasons he’s so powerful is that he is aligned with 50 other Trump Republicans who consistently vote en masse against climate. See What’s Your Strategy for These Words of Climate Delay.
How can we use language to frame climate opposition ideas? Unless you are a Hemingway, just attach one negative adjective to the quality of their ideas.
Their resistance to new ideas or progress:
Bankrupt, Failed, (failure, fail), Exhausted, Spent, Old, Geriatric, Senile, Decrepit, Tired, Fossilized, Frozen, Ancient, Arthritic, Clueless, Toxic
The result of their delay and do-nothing policy:
Dangerous, Deadly, Fatal, Unstable, Treacherous, Catastrophic, Terminal, Delay, Decay
The spirit of their lack of ideas (more personal):
Bitter, Indignant, Mad, Resentful, Apoplectic, Hysterical, Deceptive, Sanctimonious, Self-Righteous, Two-Faced. Faithless, Corrupt, False, Hypocritical, Greedy, Callous, Cowardly
Here are a few examples of use:
- Some Republicans just throw out more failed ideas on climate in order to serve their fossil fuel masters.
- Supporting more oil drilling is a fossilized idea when this June was the hottest ever recorded on earth.
- Why do Exxon Mobile’s toxic pursuit of profits get to decide the future of humanity?
- Trump’s bankrupt lack of action on energy is deadly to your family.
There are just two modifications to the use of the negative. First, we must negate the idea without mentioning the idea. I’ve tried to be deliberately vague in the four examples above. Remember, we feed what we fight. Second, we must provide contrast by adding our own positive vision. The negative captures attention, but juxtaposition your challenge on their ideas with our vision and values. This is what it might sound like using the Race-Class Narrative framework.
Facing floods in Louisiana, or fires in California, or drought in Iowa is catastrophic. As Americans, no matter our race, where we live, or where we come from, we all want a safe, clean environment and secure climate for our families and loved ones.
But for too long, a few greedy fossil fuel executives and a few corrupt Republicans they have in their pockets, have tried to divide us against each other. They do this to pad their profits by knowingly selling toxic dangerous products that are warming our climate and damaging our health and safety. The hypocritical Republicans that they own put out bankrupt failed ideas in an attempt to delay a just transition to clean energy. They take money from fossil fuel execs to try and remain in office rather than support the will of the people.
Imagine a world where we all can breathe clean air, drink pure water and assure a clean healthy climate future for our kids. We have the solutions. We must stop subsidizing fossil fuels and phase them out. We can protect our air, water and climate by switching to clean renewable energy now.
This is a moment that we must stand with and for each other across our differences to ensure climate justice and a clean healthy future for all of our families. <insert specific Call-to-Action>
MAGA Republicans in America are one of the few political parties in the world still trying to delay action on the climate challenge. It’s time to frame the quality of their ideas as bankrupt and use a few adjectives.
Thanks for all you do.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking
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