THE BLOG
10/11/2012 11:38 am ET Updated Dec 11, 2012

@BarackObama tweets on Climate Change

The Obama-Biden reelection campaign has sent out a tweet on climate change issues: This quote from the President's DNC speech was the second most applauded line in the speech and, when given, raised hopes that the campaign would end the climate silence.  Sadly, "climate change" has not (yet...) emerged as a major element of the Presidential campaign (and climate was absent from the first debate) even though it is an arena of incredibly stark difference between the candidates (and their parties) and the polling research is showing -- quite clearly  and strongly -- that this is a winning issue for the Obama-Biden team to embrace. In short, discussing climate change issues forcefully
  • Will motivate 'the base' to go out and vote.
  • Speaks strongly to and sways 'independents' who resemble Democratic voters, much more than Republicans, when it comes to climate-change issues.
  • Is irrelevant for the climate-deniers, who are already impassioned to vote for fossil-foolish politicians.
The Obama-Biden tweet, at this moment, has been retweeted over 1500 times and has over 300 favorites. Unclear how this matches up to other campaign tweets, but I do suspect that this is on the higher end for the campaign. A question: Is it possible that the campaign will use this as (yet another) signal of the political power of speaking on climate issues? Now, while cheering (the "yeah" in the post's title) on the campaign to talk about climate issues, let us be clear:  this was a dangerous line for framing reasons and thus is it really the message that should be retweeted (the "sigh" in the title).  Use of "hoax", in the speech, was President Obama reacting to Mitt Romney's joking anti-science dismissal of climate change in his RNC speech (and, well, lots of places elsewhere before and since). Take a look at the "Debunking Handbook", which makes clear that starting off with the 'myth' to be 'debunked' sadly reinforces the false messaging.  And, taking a look at this specific situation, there is real danger in using powerful words like "hoax".  As Joe Romm put it shortly after the speech,

The social science literature is quite clear that repeating a myth is not the best way to debunk it. Indeed, there is evidence that it can actually end up promoting that myth.

It's why linguist George Lakoff titled his best-selling book, Don't think of an elephant. If I say that to you, you will think of an elephantNegatives carry very little rhetorical weight. In this case, the word "hoax" is very strong and memorable and is not one that should be repeated by those who understand the realities of climate science.

Thus, a conundrum:  retweet to encourage the campaign to discuss climate issues or not to retweet to avoid reinforcing the negative?

My choice was to retweet but also to respond/engage to encourage better speechwriting along with continued discussion of climate issues.

Among my responses:

Yeah: Ending #climatesilence. Bad: Emphasizing false talking point ("hoax") reinforces it.http://getenergysmartnow.com/2011/11/29/debunk-me-lean-mean-and-easy-to-read/ ...@BarackObama @skepticscience

@BarackObama Excellent. Ending#climatesilence is not just right, but winning politics. http://climatedesk.org/2012/10/is-talking-about-climate-change-a-winner-for-candidates/ ...#cdl @climatebrad @Agent350

To repeat for emphasis:

Ending climate silence is not just right, but winning politics. Yesterday, Climate Desk held a forum in Washington, DC, entitled: Is Climate Change the Sleeper Political Issue of 2012? The polling and focus group work, done by multiple institutions, shows quite clearly that -- nationally -- climate change is a winning political issue.  The moderator, Chris Mooney, did a quite directed question challenging whether the 'political pros', who are focus on very micro-targeting in swing states, might know details that aren't explored in the national polls. In a quite interesting discussion that followed, the three panelists highlighted -- with different angles and details -- that key swing states are actually more open for engagement on climate issues.

  • New Mexico and Colarado have had massive impact from drought and wildfires.
  • Florida is 'on the front line' for climate impacts, from extreme weather damage to rising seas.
  • Virginia -- along with a good part of the East Coast -- was in the bulls-eye for the Derecho earlier this year.

Yesterday"s panel, soon to be available to watch on the Climate Desk site, had many useful points about how to do successful engagement on and framing of climate change to make it a winning political issue.  We can only hope that the Obama-Biden campaign team (along with climate reality politicians at all levels) pay attention to and act on these lessons.