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On Climate Messaging, the Devil Is in the Details

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If climate change is humanity's greatest challenge, a close second must be uniting people around the common goal of overcoming it.

As a country, the United States has proven inept at tuning out pundits, skeptics and even presidential hopefuls intent on clouding the climate issue. It has reached the point that there is neither an esteemed enough scientist, nor a concrete enough climate model to withstand the calls of dubiousness from a politically-riled opposition.

While the debate languishes on in the United States about the reality of climate change, other members of the global community have already transitioned into the next phase of the process: tweaking market-based models and emissions trading mechanisms to better level the competitive playing field. These efforts are often accomplished in collaboration with (rather than in spite of) members of the private sector.

In England, Sony, Vodafone and Unilever recently pledged support for the greening efforts of the country's energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey. Last July, Australia implemented a price on carbon pollution backed by corporate players such as Ikea and GE. In Germany, there have been continued boasts of economic growth on the road to greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. To be sure, these countries have all experienced some measure of difficulty in finding the right balance of government involvement in the process, but such is the case when acting as pioneers for the global good.

All the while, the United States ranks 121st out of 132 countries on Yale's climate change performance indicator -- even lower than developing nations like 93rd ranked China (see Angel Hsu's article for more on this).

Washington Post opinion writer Michal Gerson recently likened the climate argument in the United States to a culture war in which "scientific debate has been sucked into a broader national argument about the role of government." To lump the long-term health of the planet with the debate on whether or not contraception should be covered by healthcare seems a gross distortion of national priorities, no?

But, even as the polarizing nature of the climate conversation has stymied level-headed discussion in congress, awareness on the issue continues to mount from the unlikeliest of sources -- most notably fiscally conservative republicans in New Hampshire and god-fearing members of the Southern Baptist church.

Another cause for optimism (at least what counts for optimism in the battle of climate messaging) is how the recent spate of record-breaking temperatures triggered a wave of media coverage showcasing the expertise of climate scientists.

Although we're constantly reminded that undulating weather patterns don't always represent changing climate patterns, it is encouraging to see mainstream exposure in what has proven to be an ever-declining market for climate publicity.

Indeed, perhaps all that is needed to overcome humanity's greatest challenge is more extreme weather and a better media relations team.

Mike Bellamente is the Project Director for Climate Counts.

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