Backed by a cash infusion from media mogul Ted Turner’s foundation as well as several other major donors, National Environmental Trust, along with the Union of Concerned Scientists and Physicians for Social Responsibility, kicked off a splashy $8 million ad campaign on global warming this week with three TV spots slated to run on 220 stations nationwide.

For hot heads — a frame from the big deal ad campaign.

The ads were produced by something of a political odd-couple, Clinton-Gore war room veteran Mandy Grunwald and Republican operative Bill Greener, whose past clients include the Republican National Committee, former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

How did this odd confluence of top-flight political talent come to pass?

“We were trying to take the big tent approach,” explains Kalee Kraider, director of NET’s global warming campaign. “We wanted to have people who might have different points of view so that our ads would have more crossover appeal.”

In Washington, every political battle over environmental issues tends to break down largely along predictable partisan lines, but Kraider says NET’s polling consistently shows a national consensus among voters on major environmental issues.

While people regularly say protecting the environment is important to them, getting them to take it seriously as an immediate and pressing concern (and hopefully register that concern with elected officials capable of moving federal policy) is the hard part. “That’s why if you are going to go with consultants,” Kraider says, “sometimes it’s very valuable to have the mix.”

1-800-PANIC.

One way to get people to take something seriously is to scare the living bejeesus out of them, which two of the three ads do with their doomsday imagery of raging fires, cataclysmic storms, and parching droughts, intended to depict the havoc wreaked by an ever-warmer Earth. (The website featured in the ads is pretty scary as well with a deep ochre background and a globe that almost looks to be in flames.)

The third ad is far more warm and fuzzy and is targeted at women. We’re not stereotyping here — we simply report what we are told, and we are told that in focus groups on the ads, women responded more positively toward the third spot, which features kids and suggests a direct link between global warming and increased cases of asthma among children.

Sniff. Now, dab away those tears and go yell at Congress.

We are a little puzzled by this. Do these focus groups indicate that women aren’t worried about fires engulfing the earth and floods pouring down city streets as long as the kids don’t have asthma? Who knows.

Anyway, the ads are less directed toward influencing 2000 politics (though that’s a concern and part of the strategic thinking behind the campaign) than toward pushing up public consciousness of global warming in advance of next year’s conference to hammer out the final version of the Kyoto climate change treaty.

How Not to Get an Endorsement 101

There was the expected (and off-the-record) kibitzing this week among some enviros skeptical of dropping this kind of dough on a media campaign with no clear and immediate goal (like passage of a current piece of legislation), but for the most part, reviews have been positive.

“We think it’s a good campaign,” said Environmental Defense Fund Pres. Fred Krupp, in a remark typical of on-the-record commentary. “They will help focus the attention of the public on these [Kyoto] negotiations, which are as important to the world as the future of arms negotiations.”

There was a bit of unhappiness among League of Conservation Voters types this week. They thought they had confirmed Vice Pres. Al Gore as the keynote speaker at their annual dinner on Wednesday night. Gore, however, backed out of the event to tend to some other pressing business Wednesday, namely hanging out his new campaign shingle in Nashville, Tenn.

Instead of the sitting veep and second-in-command to the leader of the free world, LCVers got to listen to White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, no small potatoes himself, but not exactly what the group had in mind.

Word around LCV’s D.C. office is that Bill Bradley has been invited to, and agreed to attend, a speaking appearance at an upcoming LCV event. Muckraker’s advice: Don’t skip it.

In other LCV news, the group has sent out invitations to presidential candidates for a pair of debates to take place in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa next year on Jan. 10 (for Dems) and 12 (for Repubs). The debate, if candidates actually agree to appear, will center on enviro concerns and be broadcast nationwide.

More Strange Bedfellows

Republican National Committee Chair Jim Nicholson spoke to the Environmental Defense Fund’s annual symposium in Denver, Colo. this week. We were a bit surprised by this invitation, but EDF’s Krupp shook us out of our partisan myopia and assured us that his group (like NET) is convinced that the best way to move forward on environmental protection is to put aside traditional labels and listen equally to everyone’s ideas.

Fair enough. Former DNC Chair Roy Romer, now chair of next year’s Democratic convention, spoke as well.

Still, we were a bit taken aback by Nicholson’s prepared text, which seemed to violate the bipartisan spirit of the event, particularly this line: “I don’t agree with those extremists — Al Gore springs to mind — who believe that the solution to every environmental problem and challenge is to unleash Washington’s powers, and to curtail the rights of individuals and local communities.”

Whoa. If that ain’t partisan, we don’t know what is. But not to worry. Nicholson demonstrated admirable restraint, departed from his prepared text, and dropped the line, according to EDF’s Allan Margolin.

You Cast a Spell on Me

No winner yet in the Stump the Veep spelling bee. While we weigh the entries (some quite amusing), we would like to take the opportunity to point out that the Gore quote that spurred this contest (“For the environmentalists here, the first word I learned to spell was green — G-R-E-E-N!”) actually appears to be literally true.

While the Gore aide we spoke with last week was stupefied as to where the quote came from, the Washington Post (our employer of first resort and the keeper of all wisdom) reported in its first installment of a major series on Gore’s life that green was, in fact, the first word the strapping V.P.-to-be learned to spell as a young boy in Carthage, Tenn.