As readers know, I try to stay up-to-date on messaging, which is why I have a whole category devoted to rhetoric.
I have now sat through a couple of extended presentations about clean energy and climate messaging from people who definitely know how to do this sort of thing. I will present some of the results in a series of posts.
One general theme emerges, I think, which is really Messaging 101: Be specific.
“Green jobs” is not specific and requires people to fill in the blank depending on what the word “green” means to them. For some, this apparently means “environmental jobs” as opposed to real jobs for regular folks.
“Clean energy jobs” is much better (according to multiple sources). People have a much better notion of what clean energy is.
The same goes for “renewable energy” or “renewables.” Interestingly, for different reasons, I had blogged a year ago that it was Time to stop using the phrase “renewable energy.”
At the time, I was mostly making that proposal because people tend to lump renewables altogether as one solution. The term “renewable energy” is often used by the media and conservatives to give lip service to clean energy sources — by shoving them all together like sardines in order to trivialize them or diminish their individual potential. For instance, the “bunch of bland old guys” (aka U.S. Chamber of Commerce) had just one bullet for renewables (and one for efficiency), thereby making them equivalent to expanded domestic oil and gas production, expanded nuclear production, and “clean coal”.
But the messaging gurus say that renewable energy — or even worse, the meaningless “alternative energy” — are a no go. They like the phrase “clean, safe sources of energy that never run out,” which certainly has the benefit of being a bunch of short words with clear meaning.
They also suggest being specific, saying “wind and solar energy” or “wind and solar and geothermal.” I’d recommend the whole kit and caboodle, “wind and solar and geothermal and biomass and hydro power,” if not “wind and solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar thermal and geothermal and biomass and hydro power.”
The point is, we have multiple clean, safe sources of energy that never run out. The other side doesn’t have one.
Let me end with the big caveat: None of this is scientifically rigorous. Is there any controlled study on whether a phrase that gets a positive response in a “dial group” is actually more persuasive or more memorable than a phrase that gets a negative response? In fact, I’ve been told that some phrases people give a negative response to actually turn out to be very effective messaging strategies. That said, Frank Luntz proved that poll-tested replacement phrases like “death tax” work when repeated to death.
You can decide for yourself how much — if any — of this stuff you use.