Climate Change Communication Across Political Canyons — CleanTech Talk Podcast

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In the first half of this interview for our CleanTech Talk podcast series, Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc. and CleanTechnica contributor, sits down to talk with Ed Dolan, economist, writer, and Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center, about climate change communication and action across political divides. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.

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Mike and Ed met through a comment section exchange on the internet that Mike describes as having been “fruitful,” “civil,” and “useful.” Since both agreed this kind of consensus was a rarity, Mike decided to invite Ed onto the CleanTech Talk podcast. Ed describes his background as focusing on selling ideas that are progressive to people who do not consider themselves to be progressives. Ed has been working for the Niskanen Center for just over three years, writing commentary about different issues ranging from universal health care to environmental policy. He is also the author of There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, or what he describes as “a Libertarian perspective on environmental policy.”

One of the first main points of discussion between Mike and Ed focuses on the ways in which the Libertarian movement has changed and, as Mike claims, has become “non-empirical” on major subjects. Ed explored this claim, explaining that much of the problem lies in the clash between Libertarian values of non-aggression and a refusal of government intervention in solutions. As Ed explains, while pollution may infringe on property, when property rights are poorly defined and many people need to be held accountable, the problem is difficult to remedy through courts. The next most logical solution might be government regulation. However, Ed notes that Libertarians refuse government action or taxes, and denying the science or the veracity of the problem is an easy way to escape these challenges with their ideological beliefs.

Mike and Ed talk about the different subgroups under the umbrella of Libertarianism and the different belief sets of those groups before Mike segues into a discussion on media coverage of climate change. Mike calls it “the perfect storm,” in which the news media faces challenges such as false balance, competing disinformation campaigns, and public distrust. So, what is Ed’s approach to combating these media-based challenges?

Ed’s concern with current news media approaches to climate change communication is that there are many apocalyptic-sounding headlines that accompany much more tame articles. This exaggerated view of climate change’s negative impacts needs to, according to Ed, be replaced with communicating accurately the median projection of the problem. Ed then explains that if a journalist believes there is a substantial probability of a problem being much more severe or likely, then the communicator gives their case for that scenario.

Mike’s take is that there is a challenge of science illiteracy on the side of journalists who do not understand the problems and the context. Considering all of this, Mike asks: who is the audience climate communicators need to target and what is the ideal action to have the audience members take? 

Mike and Ed end the first half of this episode by exploring the answer, along with brief asides on audience segmentation and target actions. The two face conflict when talking about anti-capitalist frameworks for communication and perceptions of the Democratic Party among outsiders.

To hear more on these topics, as well as thoughts from CleanTechnica CEO and Director Zach Shahan as he chimes in, listen to the show!

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