9. Environment & Smart Growth

Begin in agreement, for example: We need to protect our community’s health and safety, and our quality of life.

Our values: Security, safety, health, protection, responsibility, quality of life

Our vision: We have a responsibility to protect the quality of life, not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. To do that we need to both stop the degradation of our environment now and pursue policies that build a better future. These goals fit into three categories, laws that: (1) reduce the pollution of our air, water and land—including gases that accelerate climate change; (2) conserve energy and quickly develop clean and renewable sources of energy; and (3) pursue policies that build infrastructure to create environmentally friendly cities and towns for the future.

Since the 2016 election, Americans have been more worried about “the quality of the environment” than they’ve ever been in this century, and 64 percent think the environment “as a whole is getting worse.”

Nevertheless, when you speak to voters, they are mostly concerned about how environmental issues affect them directly. They are worried about their own air quality and local parks, streams and wetlands. So you should personalize your language—it’s about the air we breathe, the water we drink; it’s about health and safety for our children. Here is a generic message that you can adapt to fit issues in your community:

Say . . .
We’ve got to protect our community’s health and safety, and our quality of life. We understand that includes keeping our rivers and streams clean. The Big Bend Project would eliminate a great deal of our pollution problem. This is the time for our county to take the responsibility to preserve the quality of life here, not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.

Why . . .

First agree with your audience and explain the progressive values that underlie environmentalism which are all in the security column of values: safety, health and quality of life. Make the issue personal by talking about our rivers and our health, and remind them that any environmental cause benefits their families.

Of course, you need to explain how your specific solution delivers the security that voters seek, and some audiences require more facts than others. Progressives almost always give too many facts upfront and ignore crucial message framing. Focus more on staying in agreement, voicing your values, and helping your audience understand how they benefit.

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
Opportunity Our safety, security, health

Our quality of life

For our children and grandchildren

Why . . .

In the environmental debate, the right wing tries to use the value of opportunity: the opportunity to mine, drill or develop, for short-term profit. Your job is to move your audience from an opportunity or business/consumer conversation to a discussion about our families’ current and long-term security.

For example, let’s say you are arguing for restrictions on the drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, which you should refer to as fracking.

Say . . .
We need to guarantee that our drinking water is safe. We need to protect our community’s rivers and streams. There is plenty of evidence that fracking can pollute groundwater. Right now, companies engaged in fracking aren’t even required to disclose crucial information to scientists so we can know how dangerous it is. We need a fully effective reporting system [or a moratorium] to protect our health and safeguard our quality of life.

Why . . .

Like other environmental issues, base your arguments on the value of security and personalize the issue to your audience.

Anti-environmentalists want to soften the negatives associated with exploiting the environment, so they call drilling and mining exploring for energy. Obviously, say drilling, mining, fracking and exploiting instead.

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
Exploring for energy Drilling for oil/gas


Exploiting our natural resources

Climate Change

Polling shows that 65 percent of Americans are “very” or “somewhat concerned” about climate change and only six percent believe it “is not occurring.”

However, there is an enormous partisan gap on the issue. Fully 71 percent of Republicans believe the threat of climate change is “generally exaggerated” while only 10 percent of Democrats think it’s exaggerated. Similarly, 75 percent of Democrats believe that “it has already begun to happen” while only 36 percent of Republicans accept that fact. This is a classic example of confirmation bias, stoked by the right-wing media.

Persuadable Americans’ views on climate change are closer to the Democrats than the Republicans. But, like so many issues, the persuadables know very little about the facts. Because only about one-in-ten Americans know that there is a strong scientific consensus on this issue, a Yale study suggests that one fact is especially persuasive: Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.

Say . . .
We must protect the health, safety and security of our children and grandchildren, and they face a serious problem. Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. We need to apply commonsense strategies now. We know how to implement clean energy solutions and we know that reducing fossil fuel dependence will make America stronger and our kids safer. It’s time to step up and get it done…our children’s futures depend on it.

If you’re engaged in a longer back-and-forth conversation, you might add: The last five years were the hottest years ever recorded for global temperatures, and 19 of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000.

Expanding Renewable Energy

At the state and local levels, it is common for progressives to try to enact legislation to expand the percentage of energy generated by renewable sources.

When you’re talking about such a policy, avoid the partisan gap over climate change. Use arguments that are more personal, like we need to reduce air pollution to cut down on respiratory diseases like asthma, or more generally, promote renewable energy with we need to work toward a cleaner energy future for [your jurisdiction].

A prominent conservative polling firm found that Trump voters “support taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy” by a margin of 3-to-1 and soft Republicans favor it by 6-to-1. (Democrats support this by 48-to-1.) According to that research:

When Republicans hear the phrase clean energy, they think of solar and wind power. They say it is non-polluting and leads to clean air and renewable energy. There is some concern about the cost and government regulations, but that is outweighed by the positives.