I read your interview with GOP uber-flack Frank Luntz last week and thought, “Poor Frank. Losing on all fronts, rejected by his party and outsmarted by his opponents.” Luntz was dis-invited from the GOP’s cool-kids caucus after the election because, in a comprehensive, post-November report, he basically told the whole party that they completely suck [PDF].
More importantly, he’s almost universally wrong. Environmental initiatives won across the board and around the country in November. Four hundred U.S. cities, representing 65 percent of the U.S. population, have embraced climate action in the past two years (dating back to before the Gore movie) — prodded by the likes of NRDC, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, and local environmental groups. Thirty-five states have renewable-energy standards of some kind. Gov. Schwarzenegger turned to global warming as his best hope to stay in office. Pombo lost — to a wind-power developer — in large part because the green groups had thousands of boots on the ground in his district.
The interior West is slipping from the GOP’s grip, in no small part due to conservation issues. And who’s doing the hard work at the grassroots to make all this happen? Hint: It’s not the Chamber of Commerce.
While I think we can all agree that the environmental movement needs help on communications and messaging, I think Luntz is playing the role of what the bloggers call a “concern troll” — an enemy operative who recognizes that he’s been beat, and tries one last bout of linguistic jujitsu to try to get his opponent to abandon their successful tactics. He shows his hand when he claims that he won’t work with environmentalists because they’re “mean.” As someone who is working with a top GOP pollster right now on energy issues, I can tell you, those are not the words of a man who cares more about his country, his job, and the environment than his party. He is a GOP die-hard, flacking for his masters.
So long, Frank. We hardly knew ye.
San Francisco, Calif.
An excellent interview with Frank Luntz — one of the best things I’ve read on your site. That this amount of frank insight and seasoned counsel was pulled from Mr. Luntz is a minor miracle, or perhaps more accurately, an indication of excellent reporting.
Which leaves me perplexed with the lead, and the tone of the introduction. Why just prove his point and take a superior tone by teeing off on the guy? The real story here is his candor and the many great thoughts he has for how the environmental (conservation?) story is most effectively told — not that he’s a bad guy for working for The Man.
The more we understand from people like Luntz — a master at what he does, like it or not — the more effective we can be for our cause.
I agree with [Luntz’s] point that environmentalists need to improve the way they get their ideas across to the general public. But I also know that it has been hard for environmentalists to get their message out because of this current administration. Inspectors general from two different agencies have started a new investigation that is expected to show that the current administration has suppressed scientific research that did not fit with the administration’s skewed point of view — that of ExxonMobil scientists. Scientists all over the country have been trying to get important research results to the public, to no avail.
The only reason the environment has not been at the forefront of any of the past elections is because the Republican Party has done such a good job of suppressing the information from getting to the public, as well as misleading the public with their deceptive word games.
[Luntz is] right. Environmentalists are a bunch of stubborn, self-righteous whiners. But guess what? Everybody’s like that. Ever watched Bill O’Reilly? Rush Limbaugh? Ever read the comments on conservative blogs about climate change? What about George Bush himself?
What Frank Luntz forgets to mention is that it’s not just environmentalists who do it to themselves. They’re constantly stereotyped and vilified by many right-wingers in the U.S. — not least of all George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney — to the point where the last thing that people want to be identified with is environmentalism. The coup de grace is that Luntz was able to perpetuate the stereotype in this interview.
Personally, I hate it when people think in stereotypes rather than the objective truth. People are individuals, regardless of what “category” they happen to fall into. And I hate it when people allow themselves to be led around by their self-image, rather than the facts.
But that’s what Luntz is selling. Nothing can take away the fact that he advised the president to obscure the facts and shut down rational discourse on an issue with serious security implications — facts he now blithely accepts.
He gambled with the nation’s security to sell his product. That’s not mean. That’s evil.
Thank you for this interview. This clarifies exactly what I have been thinking is the core of the problem for the environmental cause. I work for a government environmental agency (I can’t say where). Even within my own organization, the front-line scientific workers like myself sometimes have a hard time getting our important issues across to our managers and to our elected political masters. I think the problem has been that our attitude toward others has been too self-righteous and too negative. It’s so easy to quickly lay blame on everyone else that they’re the cause of the problem, but it’s not so easy to offer feasible solutions in a way that they can easily understand and make them feel like they can be part of the solution.
Environmental activists appear to be too far left, too radical, and very negative. My government often has to deflect criticism from them. We need to work together, not against each other. The status quo is that we criticize each other, make ourselves enemies to the other, and in the end, nothing positive gets done to actually protect the environment, which is the same goal we each have.
I think that all environmentally minded people need to follow Al Gore’s model of communication. We need to have a friendly, open dialog, not beat each other over the heads with blame and criticism. Blaming corporations, blaming governments, blaming ordinary citizens only causes those people to put up their defenses and then they don’t hear your message at all. No matter how right you are, if you keep using the stick, no one will listen to you. You need to start offering the carrot. We all need to start “selling” the benefits of living more environmentally friendly lives, and we need to show how easy it is to start making some small changes that can make a difference.
I agree that the majority of people do care about the environment. That majority however, doesn’t have a scientific background and needs to be visually shown how to change their behavior and consumer patterns to be more eco-friendly and how they can actually save money in the long run, and that it can be as easy as changing a light bulb. If we can educate people rather than brow-beating them, then we can build on this new momentum of environmental consciousness so that we can start making some real, dramatic changes to improve the global environment.
The story about the clash between Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whalers has a small but significant error that was not in the source article. To wit, the Grist piece says the hunt “was OK’d by the International Whaling Commission as a scientific pursuit,” which isn’t quite right. As the Guardian rightly put it, the hunt is part of a “scientific whaling program, conducted within the rules of the International Whaling Commission.” The IWC’s rules allow member countries to conduct “scientific” whaling on their own; individual hunts are not approved by the commission. If there were a vote on the permits Japan has awarded herself, it would likely fail to be approved.
I know Grist reports on nice ‘n’ legal activism, patiently working through political channels while the world burns, and I love how you do it. And I know Sea Shepherd can be a bit strident and alienating, so I don’t mind poking some fun at them. But to ridicule a group of activists while portraying whalers in a sympathetic light — who operate under the same guise of “legality” that permits all order of insane atrocities on and against this planet — is baffling, infuriating, deserving of a good excoriating! Grist, what were you thinking?
I appreciate the difficulty of trying to provide humor as a vehicle to interest readers otherwise lost to environmental news. However, Grist missed both the nuance of the International Whaling Commission scientific whaling permits (self-issued by the whaling country) and the heart of what is happening at sea to humans and whales alike.
The IWC allows for scientific whaling as an exemption to the overall ban on whaling. Japan’s self-issued permit is criticized every year both within that regulatory body and from without. Thousands of whales, some endangered, are killed under the scientific permit but then sold on the commercial market. The proceeds are used to keep the whaling ships and the industry going in the hopes that commercial whaling will eventually, be “approved” by the IWC. By the way, many IWC members were recruited by both pro- and anti-whaling factions to affect the vote despite the fact that said members are land-locked or never had active whaling industries.
The really funny part is that you ignore what the volunteer crews of the protest vessels are experiencing in the Antarctic, maritime environment trying to overcome the full weight of international norms of doing business as usual. More hilarious is you never acknowledge what it must be like to have a spear thrust inside you with a bomb on the tip that explodes quickly thereafter. Given their body mass, whales do not often die instantly. They suffer immensely.
Please, always, always evaluate your stories with the question: is there pain and suffering to human or non-human? Compassion is essential to consciousness because it considers “other.” Then make a funny.
Umbra says, “You don’t want to regularly burn more fuel in the home just to get some atmosphere.” I think that’s exactly what Brona wants to do. If Umbra lived in Ontario, she might want the same thing. Let’s leave off the guilt-trip and recognize that each of us makes choices, every day, about how we impact the earth, not to mention the people around us.
I’m sure there are things in Umbra’s life that would make other environmentalists cringe, just as there are in mine. I “waste” electricity keeping up my fish tank. Watching fish (like watching a fire?) soothes my soul. If you ever saw me “un-soothed,” you’d tell me to keep the fish tank, environment be damned.
I refuse to call myself an “environmentalist” because of this holier-than-thou attitude.
Re: Are You Kind?
Thank you for Umbra’s column today! I’ve been advocating dorky love and appreciation for years, and in return people call me names (“Pollyanna” is a perpetual favorite). Now that I know it’s good for the environment, I’m going to shoulder on and disregard such un-green sentiment.
And, incidentally, I love Umbra’s column. I think I’ve gotten all my classmates in the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz reading it. It’s great for conversation, and it gets the brain juices flowing on things we might not otherwise think about. Also, it’s just plain fun to read.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Re: Are You Kind?
Yes, what I’m trying to say is, “I love you.” That’s a Groucho Marx quote, but it could have come from anybody. I know Umbra is probably a strange human-animal hybrid, living a Quasimodo existence underground. But, we, royally speaking, love her.
We wish we could see a photograph of her so that we could consider whether she were sustainable or not. We wish so many things.
Hoping against hope, whatever that means, we simply endure … knowing against knowing (that definitely doesn’t mean anything) that we will never smell tofu with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos on her warm breath as she leans in close for another kiss. Besides, what would my wife say?
Free Union, Va.
Oh, Grist, you know we love you, but it’s “homed in”!
Editor’s note: We love you more! And you’re not the only one to write in arguing that we should have used “homed in” instead of “honed in” in our subtitle. But according to the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “honed in” is just fine. That said, Merriam-Webster does warn in a usage note that “honed in” is likely to be perceived as an error, so perhaps we’ll use “homed in” next time. Clearly, amongst the astute grammarians in our audience, “homed” is where the heart is.
Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that it seems to this humble reader that you’re over-using the whole crossed-out-word gimmick a little bit. Just a heads up. Keep fighting the good fight!
Editor’s note: We’re oh so
aware of that sorry. It’s just that it’s so addictive appropriate sometimes. Besides, it completes the lowest-form-of-humor triad: sarcasm, puns, and deletion jokes. They’re classic.