How We Talk About the Environment Has Everything to Do with Whether We'll Save It
Continued from previous page
The Westen-Lake messaging approach is short-term; something that can be said straightforwardly tomorrow. Much of the argumentation is sensible. Nonetheless, there are huge holes, though they are much more difficult to deal with and one can understand why Westen and Lake didn't go there. Here is what is missing.
First, the public's very understanding of nature has to change. We are part of nature; nature is not separate from us. Nature nurtures us. The destructive exploitation of nature is evil. What is good is the use of nature that doesn't use up nature.
Second, the economic and ecological meltdowns have the same cause: the unregulated free market and the idea that greed is good and that the natural world is a resource for short-term private enrichment. The result has been deadly, toxic assets and a toxic atmosphere.
Third, the global economy and ecology are both systems. Global causes are systemic, not local. Global risk is systemic, not local. The localization of causation and risk is what has brought about our twin disasters. We have to think in global, system terms and we don't do so naturally. That is why a massive communications effort is needed.
Fourth, the Right's economic arguments need to be countered. Is it too expensive to save the earth? How could it be? If the earth goes, business goes.
Fifth, we are the polar bears. Human existence is threatened, and the existence of most living beings on earth.
Sixth, we own the air jointly and we can't transfer ownership. Polluting corporations are dumping pollution into our air. They need to gradually be made to stop, two-percent less a year for 40 years: that is what a "cap" on carbon dioxide pollution is about. And meanwhile the polluters should pay us dumping fees to offset the cost of fuel increases and pay for the development of better fuels.
Seventh, even the most successful emissions cap would only take us halfway. Business needs to do its part to take us the rest of the way. Large corporations need to face up to reality and join in the effort.
Finally, for those in the business world: Corporate interests are constantly putting forth arguments based on cost-benefit analysis. But the very mathematics of cost-benefit analysis is anti-ecological; the equations themselves are destructive of the earth.
The basic math uses subtraction: the benefits minus the costs summed over time indefinitely. Now those "benefits" and "costs" are seen in monetary terms, as if all values involving the future of the earth were monetary.
As any economist knows, future money is worth less than present money. How much less? The equation has a factor that tells you how much: e (2.781828...) to the power minus-d times t, where t is time and d is the discount rate. Now e to a negative power gets very small very fast. Just how fast depends on the exact discount rate (that is, interest rate), but any reasonable one is a disaster. The equation says that, in a fairly short time, any monetary benefits compared to costs will tend to zero. That says there are no long-term benefits to saving the earth!
Cost-benefit analysis is just the wrong paradigm for thinking about global warming.
Those are among the big ideas that have to be understood by the public. Language is needed, imagery is needed -- whatever will communicate the significance of the truth.
Ideas like these have to be repeated over and over. Liberals don't like repetition, but that's what it takes. Why? Because that's how brains work.