Climate Messaging: Lessons From the Marriage Equality Movement
In the run-up to the June 2 federal court hearing on the Clean Power Plan, climate advocates are in full force campaigning for the rule to be upheld. State attorneys general, a coalition of cities, and various environmental groups have filed or will file briefs supporting the rule. In framing the language of their arguments, these advocates are looking closely at the messaging that helped the same-sex marriage movement succeed last year.
As this New York Times article points out, the marriage equality campaign emphasized that the issue went beyond the gay community. “Everyone has a friend, a neighbor, a sibling who could be impacted,” said Joshua Dorner, who worked on the PR campaign in advance of the Supreme Court decision. Within that frame, the issue became more personal. Climate advocates are using that same approach to show that climate change isn’t a distant threat – it will directly impact ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.
In our own research into successful social movements, we found a similar connection between marriage equality and climate messaging. The old messaging was that gay people should have the right to marry, which positioned them as a special interest group. The new messaging was that gay couples share the same values as straight couples – love, commitment, family. This helped straight people realize they could support same-sex marriage without compromising their own values.
Along those same lines, showing that climate solutions align with people’s core identities and beliefs can help build support among those who were previously opposed.
Framing can make all the difference – and in the case of the D.C. Circuit ruling, it could help ensure that this extremely vital climate regulation survives.
By Coral Davenport, contributor to The New York Times
Two months ahead of a federal court hearing on President Obama’s signature climate change rule, a coordinated public relations offensive has begun — modeled after the same-sex marriage campaign — to influence the outcome of the case.
A national coalition of liberal and environmental advocacy groups, state attorneys general, mayors and even some businesses are adhering to the strategy that a network of gay rights and other advocacy groups began in the months before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, last year. Those advocates cannot be certain, but they said they believed it had influenced the opinions of the justices, who ruled in June that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
While such campaigns are common before major Supreme Court arguments, it is unusual to see a national effort aimed at a lower court hearing. But the climate change case, West Virginia v. the United States Environmental Protection Agency, to be argued June 2 before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is unusual.
“The reason there is all this focus is that this is arguably the most important environmental regulation ever,” said Richard L. Revesz, the director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law. This week, the institute and several other groups will file briefs in support of the E.P.A.’s position in the case.
Image credit: Ted Eytan/Flickr (slightly cropped)