I wrote this letter to David Leonhardt at the N.Y. Times, in response to the question he posed after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the single most important coalition the world has formed to prevent climate change — the Paris climate accord. His question: “What would a more politically persuasive message about climate change sound like?”
Thank you for helping to raise awareness of this critical issue for humanity’s survival. But that fact that awareness needs to be raised is itself a critical problem — one that stems from the influence of the Big-$$ Party on our political system.
It is astonishing that Big Oil companies would put profits before people — but the fact is, they do. Consider this: The problem could have been prevented as early as the 1970’s, when the first oil
embargo created a (short-lived) interest in smaller cars and alternative energies.
Investments in alternative energies had a long payback period, however, and once the oil embargo ended, so did the interest in small cars. Both problems could have been solved by slowly increasing taxes on oil, and using the money to invest in alternative energy research.
In the 1990’s, oil companies set up fake “independent” organizations to “debunk” climate change studies, the same way tobacco companies did in the 80’s. Those stall tactics prevented widespread understanding of the problem for 2 decades. At the same time, their lobbyists had undue influence in Washington, by virtue of the fact that politicians need money to pay for advertising.
Corporations were allowed to do these things, because they are regarded as “people”, who are allowed to contribute to political campaigns and exercise their “right” to free speech. And all attempts to get that insane policy reversed run into the very real obstacle that there is no politician in office who is not beholden to Big-$$ in a very real way. (As one smart lady said, “When you limit your liability, you should lose the rights of a person!)
So the way I see it, the issue is not so much about finding a better way to frame a political message — it’s about finding a way to remove the obstructions to intelligent foresight that our government should have been exercising for going on half a century now.
No other country in the world has the problem we do, for precisely the reason that no other government in the world is so controlled by corporate money. That is problem #1.
And since corporate money is so entrenched in the political process, I claim that the solution is to circumvent that influence, by using social media effectively. Done right, we can make money irrelevant to elections. And that is the first step to solving the problem, as described in my proposal for a Voting Advice System.
Will it be too late? I don’t know. I came up with the idea in 2004, but had to make a living. I’ve only been able to come back to it since I became semi-retired in 2015. But the intervening decade has been costly — most particularly because it saddled us with Trump.
Hillary lost precisely because of her secret meetings with Wall Street. Every other explanation is mere window-dressing, in my book. Her voters stayed home because they knew she wasn’t on their side. Trump’s voters came out because at least (they thought) they had a chance, with him.
But then, if corporate money didn’t control the DNC, it would never have come down to such a horrible choice. I provide that analysis here: Catch 22: How Hillary Lost to Trump.
To return to your original question, then, I think the problem needs to be re-framed. You ask, “How can we make a more persuasive message?” The problem we need to solve is, “How can we open the deaf ears the message is falling on?”
We don’t need a better message. We need politicians with ears and brains. Because in the end, the proper role of government is to embody wisdom. But with their ears plugged up by corporate money, there is precious we can do.
They won’t listen until they pay a political cost for their obstinence. But Middle America won’t make them pay that cost until much of it is 10 feet under water — at which point it will be too late.