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False Climate Solution: Sensationalist Slogans

This is the 9th blog in our Examining Climate series, where CCJ staff members and others will be sharing their favorite (or least favorite) climate solution, looking at the benefits and the costs in the hope of sparking an honest conversation about how we address the climate crisis and keep our focus on environmental justice. This blog was written by CCJ Senior Attorney Sarah Winner.

Climate change is a complex problem that requires complex and thoughtful solutions. Finding these solutions is contingent upon accurately framing the problem.  

We live in an era of sensationalist slogans. Every minute, a seemingly infinite number of media are vying for our finite attention. Given this context, it makes sense for someone trying to advance a sociopolitical movement to use short, snappy slogans. Brief yet powerful slogans intuitively seem accessible due to their short length and compelling due to their shock value. In practice, however, the very words that individuals use in sloganeering solutions to sociopolitical problems end up contributing to polarization. Slogans reduce a complex issue to a few choice words that can’t accurately summarize the problem that needs to be solved. Worse, they push away people who disagree with those words. 

Slogans don’t solve problems; they often create additional problems. Billboards that read “The Green New Deal is America’s off switch” are intentionally misleading and don’t inspire people to learn more about various policy proposals that attempt to address climate change. Claims that “the world will end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change” are equally unhelpful. “Eco-anxiety” is the chronic fear of environmental doom, and it is rising in children and young people. 

Addressing climate change requires us to consider more than emissions. We must also consider the economic implications of any policy proposal, land use and energy density, grid stability, national security, international conflicts, and relationships with international allies. This means that we need a lot of different voices and perspectives at the table. 

We should aim not to limit our conversation about climate change to a few strong, misrepresentative words. This doesn’t invite those with differing views into the discussion. While it may be tempting to pursue a path where those who disagree with sweeping reform are disregarded, the truth is that strong majorities are needed to achieve meaningful change in this country. We must ask ourselves this: Do we want an issue to rally behind or a solution? Good faith disagreement and debate is the only way we move toward a sustainable solution. 

Author

  • Working with plaintiffs in Dallas, Texas who were disproportionately and adversely affected by the harmful effects of industrial nuisances inspired Sarah to commit to a career in environmental law. Since then, she has been fortunate to work on a variety of complex environmental issues. Sarah earned her law degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As a Certified Legal Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Environmental Law Clinic, Sarah worked on a variety of environmental matters involving coal extraction and natural gas development. After law school, Sarah was the Interim Legal Director at CCJ before joining Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services as a Resident Attorney. In March 2016, Sarah returned to CCJ as Staff Attorney. When she's not working, Sarah enjoys hiking, running, and skiing.

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