Last Thursday night, during the blizzard before last, I drove out to the high school here in beautiful, misunderstood Edina to catch weatherman Paul Douglas’s act on climate change. The operative cliché for “my people” is that they’re all self-absorbed, hyper-competitive materialists restless-to-bored with any conversation or endeavour that doesn’t add to shareholder value in the next quarter. Nevertheless, over 100 fellow citizens slogged their way through the right-angle sleet to hear what Douglas had to say.
Being that he’s spent the bulk of his career on TV, his name and face are familiar to every Minnesotan over the age of 15, and sure enough there were people posing with him for souvenir pictures in the lobby before the “show”.
And it’s a pretty good show. Douglas, TV performer and demonstrably shrewd businessman, has a polished, credible and engaging act laying out the known reality of climate change. I doubt there was a skeptic in the theater, but the impact of deniers, willful ignorers and utter know-nothings is stark in his story of building effective consensus. (His shtick was the main attraction in a night raising awareness of Edina’s various green initiatives, for which, as Mayor and MC Jim Hovland proudly pointed out, the city — of preening, avaricious capitalists (not his words) — has already won national acclaim and regard as a leader.)
Having followed Douglas’ career since his KARE-11 days, through WBBM in Chicago, back to (and then out of) WCCO, including more than a half-dozen businesses along the way, his evolution into a prominent consciousness-raiser for climate change is surprising only in a couple of ways. There’s never been a question he is smart enough to grasp the metrics of true science, the only issue was whether he’d take the career-risk of actually proselytizing for what he knows to be true.
But he has. Perhaps most aggressively after realizing that his days with network affiliate TV were over, but he has. And it’s dramatically more than any of his meteorological colleagues left behind at any local station dare to do. In case you haven’t noticed human-caused climate change is a taboo in local weather reports … and not much less on The Weather Channel.
Douglas makes only passing reference to his experiences dealing with nervous news directors skittish about injecting anything into weather (or any element of news coverage) that comes with so much as a hint of political provocation. As he says, “Everyone on TV wants to be loved”. And you’re not creating love (translation: ratings) if you’re making some people irrationally angry.
But who, at this point in the climate change discussion, are we making angry? As Douglas and everyone who is actually conversant in science, peer review, climatology, core samples, etc. fully accepts, the “debate” over human causation is over. (Has been for years.) Those who continue to deny it, citing transparently fraudulent counter-studies (usually underwritten by the Koch brothers or other carbon producers), have no credible standing on the matter. They can make noise, bluster and rage, but from the perspective of everyone who can read a graph on carbon dioxide release, that crowd is the rhetorical equivalent of a drunk armed with the same handful of bogus bar stool talking points.
But as we’ve just seen in the Senate vote on universal background checks, an absurdly small minority of irrationally angry/misinformed citizens still has powerful influence over the well-being of the … vast … majority.
How to reverse that dynamic?
Ninety minute seminars for the choir will only do so much. Likewise, simply writing campaign checks to sympathetic politicians for election season ads has obvious effectiveness issues. Not the least of which is that the crushing majority of ads during a campaign cycle are little more than noise and annoyance to viewers.
My suggestion, both for gun control and climate science awareness, is an experiment in the full, sustained impact of … theater. Paul Douglas long ago learned and honed the techniques of performance. You have to engage and sustain an audience to get your message across. In terms of building broad cultural awareness, what if we combined the talents of Hollywood and Madison Avenue, two industries full of people who “get” the science and the consequences of doing nothing. (Add to them the military and insurance companies, two other entities long past the point of denying climate change.)
Given Hollywood’s progressive attitudes, I have to believe writers, directors, editors, actors and camera people, would fall over each other to be a part of a campaign producing PSAs on the reality of human activity on climate, pulling back the curtain on the disinformation industry, and the modest lifestyle changes that can be made (not to mention the employment opportunities in renewable energy). Ditto, a sustained campaign to further delegitimize the NRA, with the intent of rendering it inconsequential to the election prospects of Bible Belt and rural legislators.
The commonality of climate deniers and ardent gun “enthusiasts” is striking.
And the money for it? How much did Hollywood and uber-liberal fat cats pour into the 2012 election? How fast do musicians volunteer for the latest disaster relief telethon? How much of this kind of work could be had pro-bono? How much (if any) could the networks be pressured to provide at discount through their affiliates? (Okay, forget that one.)
Point being: The vast majority of the American audience is receptive to both messages, particularly on guns. The demographic downside is minimal. You’re not exactly pissing off the well-educated, top dollar crowd. Moreover the artful, entertaining application of humor, visuals and message association would likely have a solidifying effect among the young, much as gay rights has enjoyed, largely due to representations in the entertainment industry.
It’s one thing to ignore the angry rabble. It’s something better to neuter them into insignificance.