At CleanTechnica, we work hard to inform people about solutions to climate change and other environmental problems. These solutions aren’t always perfect, but they can put us in a better spot than we are in today. Unfortunately, some recent reader interactions makes me feel like I need to address a common theme I keep seeing come up: letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.
Here’s a great example of this I got after writing a mostly positive review of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe (a plugin hybrid):
I know some of our readers sincerely hold the above beliefs, but I’m increasingly suspecting that a number of the accounts pushing this stuff really hard lately in our comments are really fossil fuel-funded trolls. They’re here to sow discord and frighten people away from making even small positive changes in their personal emissions because they’re not good enough.
Why do I think this? Because they’re doing exactly what I would do if I were working for a big oil company and I was trying to delay the transition to cleaner technologies.
How To Stall Clean Technology & Keep People Buying/Burning Oil
Step 1: Be an absolutely insufferable buffoon to anybody who isn’t environmentally perfect (but wants to improve).
Not everyone is an enthusiast about clean technologies. Some people get into EVs after seeing something interesting about them online, or they see a friend got one. So, let’s assume they’re currently a Hummer owner, and could really, really clean up their act by switching to an EV. So, to not look ignorant to their friend, they decide to start doing some Google searches. To their great pleasure, they find that GM is going to sell an Hummer EV. Yay!
But pretty quick they find out that people don’t like the Hummer EV on enthusiast sites. It’s big. It’s heavy. It’s bad for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s bad for cities. Going off-road is EVIL. Anyone wanting to buy a Hummer EV is just a bad person, especially if they intend to go an inch off pavement.
The end result? They weren’t that into EVs anyway, so they just decide to keep the old guzzling Hummer. You already hate them anyway, and they don’t want to buy what appears to be a bad vehicle (based on the stuff you trolls are saying) only to have you and their friend with an EV still hate them anyway.
Awesome! You kept one more gas guzzler on the road.
(To be clear, criticism of deficient vehicles is a good thing, but hating on the people who buy/want one is not)
Step 2: Frighten the public with a slippery slope into a dystopian “green” future. Give Republicans precisely the bogey man they need to stall substantive reforms.
Want to make sure EVs don’t get any political support from the right? Make people fear for their futures and freedom.
The right way to support EVs is to show the benefits to them that anybody can enjoy, regardless of what their political persuasion is. Cost savings, less maintenance hassles, and better energy security for the country are all great selling points. Add on top of that the ability to make your own fuel at home with rooftop solar, and even doomsday preppers can learn to like an EV and support good public policy to get them into the market faster.
The goal is to make sure none of that happens.
The key strategy here is to frighten people. Make them feel like EVs and plugin hybrids are a gateway drug to a future where everyone is crammed into crowded cities, red meat is banned, and their way of life is completely ended. The classical slippery slope, in other words. Make them feel like giving you an inch means you’re going to take a mile. Tell them you don’t believe they have any rights, and tell them that you intend to take any of the rights they think they have away.
The ridiculous “watermelon environmentalist” accusation Republicans make (green on the outside, red/communist on the inside)? Be sure to emulate that so the Republicans have you as the bogey man to point at when they oppose good environmental policy.
Step 3: Make it feel impossible to fix the problem.
Want people to not feel like it’s worth addressing climate change? That’s easy. Make it seem like a completely intractable problem.
Tell them that we’re already too far gone to every recover. Tell them that nothing short of the most extreme measures (ones you know they’ll never, ever support) will even help. Tell them that everything they are into for work, hobbies, and even in their families has to go if we want an even small improvement to the future. Even then, it’s still very bleak.
If you wanted people to change their ways, you could share the important climate research work of Michael Mann, which shows us that we can really solve this. You’re rooting for the oil companies, so definitely don’t share that information.
The key here is to make sure people feel hopeless and just continue doing what they’re doing because it doesn’t matter anyway.
Step 4: Heavily criticize anyone who does anything other than your “preferred” solution so they’ll think only weirdos with no social skills would do it.
Do you have a favorite EV? Great! Make sure to bash anyone who wants a different one. Tell them they’re stupid for buying “legacy auto.” Piss in their Wheaties any time they express any excitement for something like the Mustang Mach-E or Volkswagen ID.4. Make sure other people know that the buyers of anything but the most expensive and/or most avant-garde EV are morons.
Did someone replace a dirty gas burner with a somewhat cleaner hybrid or plugin hybrid that they are actually going to plug in? Make sure they know it’s not good enough. They should have bought your favorite EV (that you really don’t own), or they don’t care.
Or better yet, why let anyone own and drive a car undisturbed? Sure, they’re going for a cleaner option now, but make sure to be a zealot for public transit. You know they don’t want to ride the bus and/or the train, so be sure to push that really, really hard. Tell that they’re selfish. Tell them that cars are bad for cities (especially if they don’t live in a city). Tell them that their tires alone are still polluting and destroying.
Once again, the point here isn’t to actually get people to use transit, buy the better car, or buy the EV. The point is to make those positions look more unreasonable than they really are. Make sure that they avoid all of those things just to save face. Make sure they think everyone doing those things is part of a cult or something.
Obviously, I don’t really want to push people away from making better environmental choices, or push people to oppose good public policy. The idea here is to show that whether these people are being trolls or are acting this way out of sincere belief, the end result is the same: nothing good happens.
We need to get everyone to make as many good changes as possible. Some people will give up a lot for the common good, even to the point of great personal suffering. Other people are willing to make changes as long as they don’t encounter any “deal breakers.” When we find ways to address the deal breakers, we need to be cool with that compromise instead of demanding what we know they won’t ever do.
More importantly, we need to be good people who exercise a little bit of empathy when we encounter disagreement. If we can’t do that, we can’t get society to improve one bit. In other words, we need to be the good guys and not accidentally become the baddies.
Featured image by GMC.