Shrieking hurricanes, raging forest fires from hell, and the steady parching of the world’s biggest population centers. The horsemen of the climate change apocalypse are almost upon us and their advance guard is here. And there are still those who continue to deny the reality of the effect human actions have had on the environment. If you want to feel real fear for the future of the country and planet, you need only watch the Republican debates. Faced with this ostrich-like repudiation of the most urgent, compelling, frightening facts in the history of our species, what should our response be? Should we rail against them like Old Testament prophets? Write angry letters? Picket the artificially green lawns of these malefactors?
Or maybe we try the ultimate weapon: humor. In an episode of John Oliver’s “Last week Tonight” that aired earlier this year, he says, “You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking, ‘Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?’ Or ‘Do owls exist?’ Or ‘Are there hats?’”
As we all have felt at some point or the other, possibly in the schoolyard, possibly elsewhere, the sting of sarcasm, ridicule and satire often hurts in ways no amount of righteous anger can.
Which brings me to a terrific campaign that deftly turns the tables on climate change deniers in positions of power and authority. Working with 350.org, the climate change action organization, the Barton F. Graf agency decided to resort to the medieval technique of public shaming, to force deniers to confront the errors of their ways. The equivalent of tar, feathers and being forced to parade through town backwards on a mule? The agency launched a petition to change the naming system for hurricanes, which are, of course, one of the weather phenomena increasing in frequency and intensity due to changes in the global ecosystem. Why indict innocent people with names like “Katrina” or “ Sandy” when you could go after the real people whose actions were exacerbating the problem?
You can watch the video here. You’ll get a kick out of news headlines like “ Marco Rubio Causes State of Emergency for Entire East Coast.” Or, “If you value your life, please seek shelter from Michele Bachmann.” But the real anchor of the campaign was an attempt to enter the public realm with a real intervention into public life. As the YouTube description says – “Since 1954, the World Meteorological Organization has been naming extreme storms after people. But we propose a new naming system. One that names extreme storms caused by climate change, after the policy makers who deny climate change and obstruct climate policy. If you agree, sign the petition at climatenamechange.org."
Now it’s true, as marketing professionals, we immediately realize that this preaches to the choir. That underestimates the leakiness of social media, as well as the likelihood of funny videos being shared with people who do not necessarily share your views. And there’s nothing wrong with giving “the choir” some ammunition. That said, a holistic strategy would have used the snark as the battering ram that led to an equally funny but more substantive discussion of the link between extreme weather phenomena and human inactivity. But let’s not underestimate the effect of public pillorying –and instead of trolling ordinary people who may have posted the occasional unfortunate comment or picture, let’s use the powers of the Twitterverse and Snarkbook and all of these ridiculously powerful Weap ons of Massw Denigration where they can make a real difference: getting the deniers to the realization that there are, in fact, hats.