In Credible

Melting glaciers speak for themselves. There's no need for so-called experts to embellish the truth in soundbites.

Overly zealous scientists, politicians and enviros embellish the truth in order to make a point all too frequently. The controversy over exaggerated or incorrect facts and dates on the global impacts of climate change is just the latest example. The truth twisting has to stop.  It hurts the cause.  It creates distractions and inertia in a time when degradation is the dominant direction of most ecosystems.

The environment is screwed up enough that there’s no need to stretch the truth. I first shared that thought with Heal the Bay’s founding president, Dorothy Green, following a press conference on sewage spills in the late 1980s. Dorothy overstated the impacts of sewage spills in Santa Monica Bay at the event. The Bay was a mess. Large sewage spills and beach closures were commonplace, even during the summer. Bottom-dwelling fish like white croaker and Dover sole had tumors and fin rot.  A dead zone sat in the middle of the Bay.  She didn’t have to exaggerate. The horrific facts were enough to inspire people to take action.

That advice I gave to Dorothy long ago still rings true.

Environmental groups that succeed do so because they value their credibility. It’s short sighted to package exaggerated soundbites to get the highlighted quote in the Los Angeles Times or the 11 o’clock newscast.  Providing accurate information on environmental issues on a consistent basis works much better in the long run. Like environmental protection, the name of the game is sustainability when it comes to speaking to the press. Trust and availability lead to strong media relationships.

The current debate over climate change impacts seems worse than anything I’ve heard about how to protect the Bay. The carbon dioxide levels and increasing annual average temperatures around the world speak for themselves.  As do the photos of melting glaciers over time from Alaska to Argentina. The loss of enormous expanses of ice sheet in the Arctic Ocean needs no dramatization.

So when misguided “experts” claim that the glaciers on the Tibetan plateau will melt by 2035, the media and politicians have a field day. They can lampoon the issue of climate change rather than exploring the underlying fundamental truth — the fact that the water supply for over a billion people is in jeopardy due to glacial melting, growing water demands and degrading water quality.

Polling demonstrates that fewer people in the U.S. believe in climate change today than they did a few years ago. And even fewer rate our greatest global environmental threat as a top priority.

There is too much at stake for eco-commentators to casually throw around factoids without a reference.  The loss of credibility can set back progress on an environmental issue for years. 

Be it water quality, deforestation, biodiversity, or air pollution, harsh reality should be adequate to convince the public to protect human health and ecosystems. Savvy organizations must provide information to the public in a credible manner that doesn’t imply that Armageddon lurks around the bend.  Unless you’re talking about those endangered species on the verge of extinction, such as the Yangtze river dolphin. They’ve already seen the end of their world.

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One Response

  1. Well said, Mark. I have come to think that the environmental community in general may have done itself a disservice (and is only perpetually making it worse) by using global warming as its poster child. The scare tactics and brutalist mentality has back-fired on conservatives and failed to educate people in a way that can get them on board. At this point, it’s almost doing more harm than good.

    Sustainability is a multi-faceted opportunity that can appeal to a number of different goals and pursuits. Air quality, water shortage, waste generation, national security, job creation, economic benefit (your examples as well, deforestation, biodiversity)… the host of reasons to be more sustainable are numerous. One just has to pair the right reason with the right audience. As you say, some extremists with the right intentions may be beating a dead horse. They should stop treating the problem as a single-headed beast.

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