Climate Code Red! Is all “good news” and no “bad news” a good strategy?

April 30, 2012 • Daily Email Recap

I suspect many of you will enjoy the following essay, sent to me by Bill Ryerson, and written by David Spratt. Mr. Spratt is based in Melbourne, Australia and you can follow him on Twitter at @djspratt. Spratt is focused on climate advocacy, but his observations are, no doubt, transferable to various strains of environmental advocacy.


Is all “good news” and no “bad news” a good strategy?
by David Spratt / Part 3 of a 5-part series

“If people don’t know there’s a problem, they won’t try to solve it.”
– Bill McKibben

Bright-siding climate advocacy is based on the view that:

  • Only positive “good news” messages work. Don’t mention “bad news” such as climate impacts and don’t communicate the magnitude of the problem, because people can’t deal with it; and
  • The good-news story is first and foremost about “clean” or renewable energy, so construct public messages dominated by renewables and economic benefit, not about about replacing fossil fuels.

An example of trying to avoid “bad news” was the decision by the Australian government not to call the carbon tax a carbon tax.  Instead it used the confusing term, a “price on pollution”. This left the discourse about taxes entirely to opposition leader Tony Abbott, with devastating consequences. And then the government, having avoided the “tax” word, made its core pitch about…  how you will get a personal tax break: “How much support will my family get? Estimate your assistance here…”

If ever there is evidence that “bad news” can work, it is Australian federal opposition leader Tony Abbott’s unrelentingly assault on the Gillard government.

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