As the air across the valley thickens with toxins for another winter, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is attempting to thread the needle of addressing Utah’s poor air quality while simultaneously trying not to rock the boat of his very own political party — a party in which over half of the members don’t even believe in man-made global warming.
In a recent survey of registered voters by Dan Jones & Associates, Jones found that “53 percent of those who said they belong to the Republican Party say human activity is not responsible for the rising Earth temperatures.” Although one could point to the progress being made in that the right is finally acknowledging that climate change is happening, it may be more appropriate, and even more beneficial to the future of science, to look back and bring up an older frustration as to why that progress was delayed so: the term “global warming.”
When in doubt, realize this about progressives: When it comes to the battle over words and phrases to move the needle on important public policy issues, those on the left have always been a little slow to warm up (pun intended). The right, on the other hand, and especially Donald Trump, have always been more effective in reaching the masses through their words. Just look at the following few as examples: “gun rights” (vs “gun control”); “right to life” (vs “right to choose”); “religious freedom” (vs “LGBTQ discrimination”).
Which brings us to “climate change.”
It’s simple. To the point. Hard to deny.
“Is the climate changing?”
“Well, of course it is! It always changes.”
See where I’m going with this?
And yes, theoretically speaking, the term “climate change” could be used against the argument of global warming for the same simplistic reason it could be used to defend it. For instance, it was Republican political consultant Frank Luntz who, in 2003, suggested Republicans start using the term “climate change” instead of “global warming” because it’s less frightening: “‘Global warming’ has catastrophic connotations attached to it, ‘climate change’ suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge."
Well said, Mr. Luntz. Unfortunately, he, and the others attempting to make an actual difference in solving global warming, glossed over one word in particular: warming.
Falling into this narrative of attempting to shock and scare the public into addressing the issue, the left doubled down with “global warming” only to be pushed back by a moron holding a snowball saying, “Where is this ‘warming’ you speak of?” And one would argue that ever since the left began using the term “climate change” more often than “global warming,” the verdict is officially out: It’s happening!
The fact global warming is simply one part of climate change does not mute this point: The same reason Republicans wanted to use “climate change” in the first place was the exact reason Democrats should have used it: less emotional, more controllable and hard to deny. And although the argument has now shifted as to whether it is “man-made,” it still equates to progress.
The simple fact remains: Words matter. And unless the left wants another 40-year debate over something that’s as conclusive within the scientific community as the link between smoking and lung cancer, they’d better get ahead of the marketing game. Good intentions and overwhelming scientific evidence aren’t enough to win the argument anymore.
Play from the denier’s playbook, anticipate the pushback from a market with a partisan divide not seen before, and go to battle with proper preparation and the right message in place. If they do, the left could someday win this battle over words.
Ryne Vyles, Salt Lake City, is a business marketing specialist and freelance writer.