Commentary: Marketing the Climate Catastrophe Narrative

At the VPIRG 50th anniversary celebration last week Climatologist Katharine Hayhoe explained how to sell the climate catastrophe narrative to listeners who don’t want to believe it. Her use of scary weather events on television screens poses a serious question of being effective or being honest.

Last week I went on a journey of exploration into the exciting world of climate change activism. My entrance portal was the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG has blossomed into a political action juggernaut with aggressive leadership, thousands of contributors, unquestioning media support, and a $2 million annual budget.

VPIRG currently reports 46 registered lobbyists in Montpelier, many of them canvassing the state to build support for VPIRG programs such as “Saving Vermonters Money with Clean Energy Solutions”. This seems like a curious slogan for its campaign to tax Vermonters’ motor fuel (TCI-P) and drive up their heating fuel costs (Clean Heat Standard).

The featured speaker was climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University, Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy and a bright star on the climate emergency speaking circuit.

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t invited to the celebration, but I am familiar with her message and refreshed my knowledge by listening to her interview by David Goodman on Vermont Digger.

Hayhoe’s goal is to promote her strategy for getting people to believe in the planet-threatening climate emergency, caused by human combustion of carbon-based fuels. She defines five classes of people: those who are rightly alarmed by the headlines, the cautious, the disengaged, the doubtful, and, at the bottom of the stack, the dismissive who won’t even listen.

This latter group  – by her estimate seven percent of any sample – rejects “200 years of science” because they listen to the wrong people, such as Q-Anon. She says that for these people the proposition that climate change threatens human life on the planet is somehow “a threat to who they are”.

But where are the literally thousands of credentialed scientists who agree that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions must make some contribution to global temperature, but find no credible support for an approaching “climate emergency”, and who are distressed by contrived, exaggerated, unsupportable and politically motivated climate hysteria?  They don’t exist in Hayhoe’s world.

Her technique for winning over the cautious and doubtful begins with asking “what do you see happening?” Then comes the familiar litany of events that attract viewers to nightly news shows: hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves, famines, calving ice sheets, tornadoes – usually declared by the media reporters to be more evidence of the horrendous consequences of human-caused “climate change”.

Hayhoe’s clincher seems to be, “so we agree, the climate is WEIRD”. The fact that all these kinds of events have been occurring for thousands of years becomes irrelevant.

I listened to Hayhoe’s interview carefully for a scientifically defensible statement. The closest she came was “the rate of sea level rise has doubled”. She didn’t specify how global mean sea level rise was measured or over what period it supposedly doubled.

The rate of rise of global mean sea level has been a controversial contention among climate scientists. Eminent computational physicist (CalTech) Steven Koonin explains the difficulties in defending such simplistic statements in his book Unsettled. Koonin readily agrees that the evidence shows that sea level has risen over the past century - it is now around 11 inches per century - but concludes that it shows no significant rate of acceleration.

In fairness, Hayhoe can’t be expected to analyze the evidence for sea level rise at a VPIRG dinner celebration. The attendees are there to resonate to an emotional message about the menace of climate change.

Hayhoe’s mission is to strongly motivate individual and group action to generate belief in the catastrophic climate change narrative and the political support for sweeping measures to drive down CO2 emissions. The measures promoted by VPIRG and its Climate Council allies are familiar: driving up the price of carbon fuels until most Vermonters can’t afford them, and using carbon tax dollars to subsidize a conversion to something else.  

Her biography tells us that Hayhoe has been given the Stephen Schneider Climate Communications Award. Schneider was noted for his urgent 1970s predictions of a coming ice age. (He later switched to the threat of global warming.)

Schneider is remembered now for his explanation, in 1989, of what must be done to win support in the battle against the threat of catastrophic global warming. “That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. …  Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”


Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Enter Comment Here:

  • Mark Donka
    commented 2022-12-03 17:00:13 -0500
    Why is it that the climate religion never really make statements the scientific evidence of their claims. Read Joe Bastardi’s the Weaponization of weather he at least states facts.
  • Philip Grantham
    commented 2022-11-02 15:32:36 -0400
    Climate change is a religion with these people….they have been so conditioned to believing the narrative that having a civil debate with them is not going to happen in my lifetime. And, in the meantime, we are going to be forced into making lifestyle tradeoffs which will be felt by those among us who are the most vulnerable.
  • David Flemming
    published this page in EAI Commentary 2022-10-04 12:29:43 -0400