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Reversing Gandhi

The web is full of references to a Mahatma Gandhi quote:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

This line gives solace to people working on obscure or seemingly hopeless endeavors, wondering if the entrenched incumbent systems will ever give way.

After reading Andrew Leonard's latest post to "How the World Works," about a ridiculous US Chamber of Commerce advertisement trying to scare people away from supporting a relatively mild carbon regulation (the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill) (PDF), however, it strikes me that the reverse is true for those entrenched incumbents.

For those in power unwilling to accept change, the pathway is:

First they fight you, then they laugh at you, then they ignore you, then you lose.

As Leonard's post demonstrates, as we work against the powers-that-be that seek to avoid any effort to head off climate disaster, we've now moved solidly into the second stage of this path.


Have you seen the way Rep Jay Inslee is reframing the energy issue? Interesting.

In the UK, they moved on to the ignoring stage at least a couple of years ago.

Here are my notes from a 2006 presentation on Climate Change Communications Strategies at MIT:

On Thursday, September 7, I went to MIT's Stata Center, a Frank Gehry designed building, for a talk called "Climate Change Communication: Tuning the Message" with Solitaire Townsend, managing director and co-founder of Futerra, a communications consultancy in the United Kingdom, http://www.futerra.co.uk
It was sponsored by the Campus Consortium on Environmental Excellence, http://www.c2e2.org , a group of 35 colleges and universities.

Solitaire Townsend and Futerra have developed climate change communications strategies for the UK government and are currently involved in a similar exercise for the Chinese government.

She presented 20 "rules of the game."  My notes and rephrasing of her work follows.

Don't rely on concern for our children's future or human survival instincts. Recent surveys show that people without children may care more about climate change than those with children and "fight or flight" survival instincts are of little use for a problem that changes incrementally over years.

Don't argue about the existence of climate change because that argument is over.  The argument is now over how we should deal with climate change.  Forget anyone who is still arguing there ain't no such thing.
Don't depend upon the "rational man" as people in general rarely rationally and objectively weigh the relative merits of different decisions and then take the clear self-interested choice.

Don't rely on information alone to change attitudes.

Climate change must be on people's minds before persuasion can work.  

Use both direct and indirect methods.  London bus ridership went up when Gwyneth Paltrow was photographed riding on a bus.  Similarly, Stonyfield Farm Yogurt broke into the Chicago market with a promotion of giving away free yogurts at mass transit stops as a "thanks for your commute."
Link climate change actions to positive desires and hopes like home improvement, self-improvement, better neighborhoods,  green space, and national pride.

Use social learning and target trendsetters, opinion leaders, and informal and formal teachers, the people who serve as active network nodes.

Beware of cognitive dissonance.  Confronting someone with the difference between their attitude and actions on climate change will make them more likely to change their attitude than their actions.
Promote a clear and consistent explanation of climate change.

Policy and communications on climate change must also be both internally and externally consistent.
Create "agency" for managing climate change by providing people with options for practical actions they can do themselves, an infrastructure to support those activities, and recognition for their contributions once they've completed them.

Bring climate change home with real actions that address the real impacts in every household.

Work to raise the status of energy and resource efficiency behaviors as research shows that these activities are currently seen as poor and unattractive.  Make elegant frugality chic.

Target core constituencies and audiences and work to expand them.

Create a trusted, credible, recognized voice on climate change.  Al Gore's success may have already solved this problem but there's no guarantee the dominant media won't savage him again as they did in the 2000 election and on this very same issue.

Use emotions and visual messages.  As in this climate change public service announcement, "The Train"

Change emphasis as the context changes.

Sustain useful communication over time.

Find partners who can help you deliver your message and make them part of your stakeholder community.

GANDHI said it, I live(d) it.




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