Last Sunday’s post “What are your favorite climate and energy soundbites? drew dozens of comments that are a must read for anyone who speaks on this subject.  I will definitely use and/or adapt some of those suggestions.

Now I’m looking for something a little more specific — pithy metaphors and jokes, maybe two sentences at most.

Metaphors are the Rolls Royce of figures. Or, to put it more aptly, metaphors are the Toyota Prius of figures because a metaphor is a hybrid, connecting two dissimilar things to achieve a unique turn of phrase.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!

Aristotle wrote in Poetics, “To be a master of metaphor is a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars” (see “How to be as persuasive as Lincoln, 3“).

A 2005 study on “Presidential Leadership and Charisma: The Effects of Metaphor” examined the use of metaphors in the first-term inaugural addresses of three dozen presidents who had been independently rated for charisma. The remarkable conclusion:


Charismatic presidents used nearly twice as many metaphors (adjusted for speech length) than non-charismatic presidents.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Additionally, when students were asked to read a random group of inaugural addresses and highlight the passages they viewed as most inspiring, “even those presidents who did not appear to be charismatic were still perceived to be more inspiring when they used metaphors.”

One of the comments in the earlier post by Dan Miller of Climate Place offered this metaphor:

“If your child has cancer, you’re going to take him or her to a pediatric oncologist, not a dentist or an ophthalmologist. And if the oncologist says your child needs treatment, you’re not going to withhold it because the doctor is only 95% certain of the diagnosis or the fact that the doctor will earn money from providing the treatment. The climate scientists are the experts that are telling us we need to take action now. To withhold treatment is to endanger the future of our children.”

It’s not bad, but from my perspective it’s too long and too quantitative — and possible too strong — to be effective as a metaphor in most situation.  I’d go with something more like, “When your child has a severe fever, you take him to a pediatrician, not a dentist or optometrist.”  And you can take that metaphor many places depending on the situation.

I’m certainly open to an extended metaphor.  It is, after all, How Lincoln framed his picture-perfect Gettysburg Address.  They are, however, much tougher to do well and much more likely to run amomk.

Also, I’d love a good joke or two.  I’m looking for stuff that can be used in a short speech or possibly even an interview or possibly a comeback in a FoxNews interview situation (though something friendly enough that one would get invited back).

I’m looking for material that covers not just climate change, but oil and clean energy and even the politics of this issue.

Related Posts: