Climate Shift: Controversy and Teachable Moment
There's a movement bubbling up among the movement — to analyze where we've made mistakes in our efforts to affect policy on climate. From grasstops to grassroots, media, and even ecoAmerica's own America the Best conference, the movement is considering a few common questions:
1) What happened? Why didn’t we pass climate legislation?
2) What have we learned? What would we do different if we had the chance to do it over again?; and
3) Where do we go from here?
The latest entrant to this growing body of analysis is a new and controversial report from Matthew Nisbet, entitled "Climate Shift.". It reports that environmentalists weren't outspent or out-maneuvered, that ideology has played a role in polarization (including by our own leadership), and that the media was actually balanced in reporting on climate. You can download the Climate Shift report and the executive summary from these links.
There has been a lot of criticism of Nisbet’s report, including in the Discover and Climate Progress blogs, not unlike the criticism that surrounded the Death of Environmentalism report a few years back. While there are flaws and missed opportunities in the report, the courage to shine light on the movement is well-timed.
Our tendencies are to blame external factors for the failure. The movement's good intentions, logic, dependency on funding, science and a designed-to-win plan amplify the resistance to admitting possible errors. Climate Shift, however, can play a useful and needed role in motivating analysis and discussion on where we go from here.
So it is no surprise that there has been immediate attacks on this report, even a break in the embargo to report on how a leading expert withdrew from the report, citing contradictions in the data and more, in an attempt to kill "a false narrative before it takes hold".
There are, however, nuggets of learning we can heed from the report, such as the notable absence of any meaningful discussion on the social or cultural dimension of the climate change challenge. Other worthwhile highlights are: 1) that only a limited number of grants included formal initiatives aimed at better understanding audiences or at supporting media resources that audiences could use to participate on the issue; and 2) that there was not sufficient investment in such important human dimensions of the issue as adaption, health, equity, justice or economic development.
As ecoAmerica has been advocating, and as the founding reason for our organization, we must win the hearts and minds of mainstream Americans if we want to win on climate. There are over 100 million Americans ripe to be engaged and moved on climate solutions, representing a critical strategic gap.