Much as we love ’em, environmentalists are not often the most effective spokespeople for promoting energy efficiency measures and green technologies.
I am now convinced that a major problem with the green message isn’t the sad condition of our environment—melting ice caps, dying polar bears, climate havoc—it’s environmentalists and their preachy, sanctimonious way of pissing off the very people they should be trying to convince.
Al Gore come to mind? I agree with his overall message. But the inconvenient truth about Mr. Gore isn’t the climate change deniers’ accusations that global warming is a hoax designed to make him rich; it’s the preachy, sanctimonious way he comes across to others.
Rule #1: Don’t talk like Al Gore.
Gore’s new book, Our Choice, offers a wide range of solutions to the greenhouse gas problem. But in the first few lines of the book, Gore quotes an epitaph for humanity written by the late novelist and humorist Kurt Vonnegut:
We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard … and too damned cheap.
I love Vonnegut as much as the next guy. And on my sadder days I think his line is so true. But cynical black humor that casts us all as lazy and cheap is NOT the best way to start a conversation about the things we should be doing to save our liveable ecosystem. Yikes, Al, where’s your editor or marketing person?
There’s a lot of good information in Our Choice—more on this in future posts—but unfortunately, it only preaches to the choir. Nobody who isn’t deeply concerned about the environment is going to be swayed by his arguments after being told he or she is lazy and cheap.
And yes, we need to do something now. And we need to do more. But repeatedly insisting that we all change is not the way to inspire change. It’s the way to inspire vitriol.
Rule #2: Don’t bite the energy-saving hand that feeds.
Some environmentalists are even going a step further and dissing those bold enough to enact change in their communities. Mike Tidwell, the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and an apparent environmentalist, advocates not buying green products because, as he claims, larger change than voluntary actions by individuals are needed.
In other words, Tidwell says that we need real climate legislation, with the kind of teeth that gets us to 350 ppm of carbon dioxide, considered by some scientists to be the level at which we can better control global warming. (Right now we’re above it, and a treaty in Copenhagen as well as legislation pending in the United States won’t get us there). Tidwell writes:
After years of delay and denial and green half-measures, we must legislate a stop to the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
Agreed. Legislate away.
December should be national Green-Free Month. Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change.
Where do I begin? Yes, large-scale change is needed. Buy exactly how are small, voluntary actions by people counterproductive? Tidwell asserts that this creates a false sense that mass progress is being in eco-awareness. Well, gee, I don’t know anyone working in the green areas, or many consumers, for that matter, who would say that we have a false sense of real progress being made on getting people to think greener. I’d say we’ve only just begun. And now we’re supposed to stop, just as we might be building momentum? That, Mr. Tidwell, is counterproductive. And while we’re at it, let’s take the biggest shopping season of the year, even in this economy, when we should be giving consumers greener gift ideas, and declare it a green-free zone. … Unbelievable.
Offering iconoclastic viewpoints such as this might get you a byline in the Washington Post, but it is marketing and promotional idiocy. I can think of no better word.
I understand Mr. Tidwell’s point: that we should be focusing on larger measures, not small ones. But small ones add up; that’s what generates and inspires a movement. (He should read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.) Besides, any treaties agreed upon in Copenhagen or legislated in Congress is almost certainly not going to be enough to lower greenhouse gases to acceptable levels. Energy efficiency will be required of us all. And people respond to energy efficiency and energy savings, especially when they realize they’re wasting money.
I don’t think you’ll be seeing GreenTech Advocates invite Mr. Tidwell to give any webinars on effective green marketing. He may as well hang up a sign that says, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
Yes, I’m quoting Dante’s Divine Comedy, which could today star Mssrs. Gore and Tidwell. The quote is Dante’s inscription at the entrance to hell. Though the hell I’m talking about won’t be caused by runaway global warming; it will be caused by runaway environmentalists shooting their mouths off before considering effective marketing strategies.