The Oil Lobby, Astroturfing, and the Power of Messaging
Support for clean energy is growing across the country – 71 percent of Americans now feel alternative sources like wind and solar are our best defense against climate change. The messages being sent by climate leaders and communicators are clearly working – and they have the oil industry running scared.
As Businessweek recently reported, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), one of the country’s most powerful oil and gas lobbies, took part in a multi-state campaign this year to derail clean energy initiatives. In many cases, they created groups that were meant to sound like grassroots activists, a practice known as “astroturfing.” Voters who are generally supportive of clean energy might be confused by this tactic – or at least that seems to be the goal. Bloomberg Businessweek was sent a copy of the Powerpoint presentation outlining their plan. View it here:
This incident highlights the importance of framing in communications – the way the message is delivered affects how it is received. People respond best to messages that come from others who share their values and identities. The WSPA campaigns sounded like they were coming from groups climate-friendly voters could relate to. The ads also featured loaded terms like “hidden” and “tax” that can create strong feelings of aversion.
These types of campaigns can make the jobs of climate communicators more challenging. But if someone has doubts about climate solutions because of misinformation, it can be helpful to make them aware that false information campaigns are going on. The most important thing is to continue sharing the facts and finding common ground. We’re seeing the results – let’s keep it going!
Brad Wieners, Executive Editor for Bloomberg Businessweek
You remember Fillmore. He’s the resident hippie of Radiator Springs in the Pixar blockbuster Cars. Much to the chagrin of his neighbor, Sarge the Army Jeep, Fillmore greets each new day with Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of A Star Spangled Banner — “respect the classics, man” — and is quick with a conspiracy theory about why biofuels never stood a chance at America’s gas pumps. Perfectly voiced by the late, great George Carlin, Fillmore has a slight paranoiac edge, as if his intake of marijuana may exceed what’s medically indicated.
Well, as they say, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to delay, rewrite, or kill off a meaningful effort to reduce the build-up of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. A Powerpoint deck now being circulated by climate activists — a copy of which was sent to Bloomberg Businessweek — suggests that there is a conspiracy. Or, if you prefer, a highly coordinated, multistate coalition that does not want California to succeed at moving off fossil fuels because that might set a nasty precedent for everyone else.