Saving the planet never required this many hard hats before — or hammers or blowtorches. A batch of environmental groups released an ad this week titled “Calling All Builders” as part of a new campaign to push President Joe Biden and lawmakers for ambitious green infrastructure plans. And for once, there’s not a polar bear, recycling bin, or tree in sight.
Instead, the 30-second-long commercial is a call to action for everyday working people. The narrator — who has the kind of deep, gravelly voice normally heard in truck commercials — starts off with a shoutout to welders, roofers, engineers, electricians, brick masons, boilermakers, steelworkers, and steamfitters. “Your country is calling you to rebuild America,” Macho Voice says, “to create a cleaner, safer, more prosperous future for all.” (Implied: After you finish with those barbells.)
The advertisement, currently running on cable channels in Washington, D.C., kicked off a $10 million public awareness campaign by Climate Power, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Potential Energy Coalition. In addition to echoing Biden’s “Build Back Better” messaging, it appears to be appealing to conservative sensibilities with a “get ’er done” attitude and 20th-century nostalgia.
It’s the latest effort to give concern for the environment a kick-ass makeover. In 2015, a spoof action-movie trailer showed Pope Francis donning red boxing gloves and taking to the ring to “fight for God’s creation.” More recently, a GM ad narrated by Lebron James introduced the world to an extravagant, 18-foot-long all-electric Hummer. Tesla’s electric vehicles were similarly sold as sexy status symbols. In taking a marketing lesson from car advertisements, the “Calling All Builders” blew the mind of some climate advocates.
The ad makes the effort to kick the country off fossil fuels look like a job for a CrossFit aficionado. It features a diverse array of people involved in manual labor, including women, but its vibe is burly and rugged. By my count, the ad shows 10 hard hats in the span of 30 seconds, for an average of one hard hat every three seconds. That might seem like an odd metric, but the hard hats are doing double-duty here: The construction gear has long been a symbol of masculinity and blue-collar workers. The phrase “hard hats,” according to an article in the New York Times, has even become “shorthand for working people with a conservative patriotism.”
Taking care of the planet has sometimes been seen as women’s work. And it’s true that, compared to men, women tend to recycle more, have smaller carbon footprints, and be more concerned about climate change and other environmental crises. Some research suggests that many men avoid doing eco-friendly things because it’s seen as feminine, like carrying a purse or drinking a neon-pink cocktail.
The TV commercial appears to be aimed at swaying a base that the climate movement has had trouble reaching in the past. Nostalgic messages tend to resonate more with those on the right (remember “Make America Great Again”?), and the new commercial is full of them. The black-and-white color scheme brings to mind old movies and TV shows; the all-caps “YOUR COUNTRY IS CALLING YOU” is reminiscent of the famous World War I-era poster of Uncle Sam in his stars-and-stripes top hat, saying “I WANT YOU for the U.S. ARMY.”
“Tackling climate change: This is the job of our lifetime,” the narrator says at the end of the commercial. “It’s time to build back better. Let’s get to work.”