Michael Moore was on Piers Morgan’s CNN show on Wednesday critiquing the coverage of Sandy. At one point he looked tearfully at Piers and said something along the lines of “Piers, we’re killing the planet.”
And whether or not that’s true, from the very practical stand-point of getting something done about climate change, it is a very dangerous statement to make right now for the very simple reason that, as human beings we are not hard-wired to care about “the planet.” It’s too abstract. We are hard-wired to care about ourselves first and foremost. The messaging needs to be much better than that.
Fight or flight was the most important kind of decision the cave dweller made when staring at the mammoth, and that survival instinct is still with us all. And for the 66% of Americans who are in survival mode most days, living on less than $30,000 a year (as Richard Florida points out) the idea of saving the planet is an absurd luxury. And the pols know that which is why they weren’t talking about it at all last week.
And yet, 38 people have died in Sandy’s wake, many people have lost everything and will struggle to get back on their feet. Addressing climate change just moved from luxury to necessity for a whole lot more people. And with a whole lot more people the chance of making change happen becomes very real.
So let’s stop talking about some abstract notion of ‘the planet’ and start talking about people. Let’s not talk about the risks in the future, and let’s talk about the risks for next hurricane season, because the ice over Greenland has gone for good and the high pressure that formed there as a result, and sucked Sandy back on shore, is a meteorological phenomenon that will be with us again next year.
Climate change as a brand needs to be a “brand of opposition” for a while and use the startling pictures like this one to remind people what this abstract notion of climate change looks like and how it affects them now.
And then once we’ve all got the point flip into being a “brand of proposition” that has very specific and concrete ideas for how to tackle the issues, like this very reasonable Professor of Engineering from Stanford University seems to have.
The time is now. Truly visionary business leaders are thinking about what their own companies can do to get ahead of (and profit from) some of the climate issues we face today. This piece on Paul Polman, dubbed “Captain Planet” by HBR is as startling to read as anything I’ve come across of late in the brilliance and bravery of its forward thinking. And it makes me want to go buy only Unilever products from now on (as well as get to work with them on a project that contributes to this initiative . . .)
Anyway, Michael Moore is wrong about the planet. We can harm it, but we can’t kill it. She’ll be fine. It’s us we should be worried about.