As marketers, we are expected to be masters of the well-turned phrase, the catchy tagline that makes people laugh and think and remember our brand above all others. Sometimes that’s true, but if we are to be honest, we could all learn from the politicians, those wonderful people who polarized a debate on reproductive rights as “pro-life” vs “pro-choice.” As much as my personal vote would differ, I have to say it’s hard to stand up and say one is not for life. Or the Cassandras who dubbed governmental oversight of health insurance “death panels,” which would decide when to put your grandmother to death. We can laugh at the hyperbole, but there’s no denying their emotional impact.
The advocates of action on climate change have been handicapped by their lack of mastery of the language. Where their opposition has successfully managed to make this about jobs, prosperity and freedom, they have insisted on sticking to the driest of dry terms and, as a result, the most important subject in the world, namely, the end of our world, has been relegated to the earnest minority.
The most recent example of our ostrich-like ability to ignore bad news and then hope it goes away comes from the government of Florida. They have apparently instructed their officials to refer to any flooding as a result of the rise in sea levels as “nuisance flooding.” There is some truth in that: when South Beach disappears and everyone is canoeing from Coral Gables to Brickell, it will indeed be a nuisance. Meanwhile, those of us in California or Australia or huge swaths of Asia and Africa will be engaging in full-on “Mad Max” warfare over the last few precious drops of water. Maybe we could call that “nuisance drying.”
In an effort to counter this dangerous attempt to subvert and banalize a truly important issue, I’d like to suggest a few phrases that could possibly get people thinking differently about climate change. First: why call it global warming? That sounds like a good thing, reminding us of beaches or cozy hearths in December. How about “global burning,” with a visual of the Colorado and California forest fires as a backdrop? And instead of “climate change,” which sounds almost inevitable and natural, why not “collective climate suicide”? I’m sure my colleagues in the creative industries can come up with better descriptors, I just want to get the conversation going.
One final note, going back to my previous post, “Strange Bedfellows” where I pointed to the unlikely emergence of the Pope as a climate change – sorry, climate suicide – activist. Here’s another, possibly even more unlikely. A recent report from a leading authority outlines the imminence of catastrophic global warming and outlines the ways in which we need to adapt to it.
You might think this was another scientific organization or activist group, but it was in fact an international management consulting firm, Mercer, writing on behalf of its “superfiduciary” clients, the world’s biggest pension funds. The report is titled “Investing In a Time of Climate Change” and I could go on about its recommendations, but the title says it all. When the financial establishment, the bulwark of unfettered capitalism, takes climate change as an inevitable fact and outlines investing strategies to beat it, you know you’re onto something.