Monday, March 08, 2010

Choose conflict last...

I have been talking at meetings this winter about my doubts concerning the feeling in much of agriculture to confront those who take issue with our methods and goals. For example, the rising anger at the HSUS (for which I have no respect, BTW) seems to have fed the conviction that some well-choreographed public relations campaign is just what we need to...umm...accomplish something and make us feel better.

Many climatologists are harboring the same urge to lash out at skeptics. Some cogent advice might apply to both.
When scientists and advocates, motivated by these biased perceptions, respond with tit- for-tat attacks on climate skeptics, it takes energy and effort away from offering a positive message and well-planned engagement campaign that builds public support for climate action and instead feeds a downward spiral of "war" and conflict rhetoric that appears as just more ideological rancor to the wider public.
Alternative positive messages and strategies include re-defining climate change away from just being an environmental problem, to being a national security, public health, and economic problem, with policies that would lead to societal benefits in these areas rather than just perceived economic sacrifice, hardship, and costs. This does not mean replacing a focus on environmental science and impacts with other frames of reference, but rather it means partnering scientists and science educators with opinion leaders from across sectors of society who can speak to complementary dimensions of the issue and who can communicate about the benefits that would occur from specific policies, both at the national and local level.
Moreover, when scientists inaccurately presume that climate skeptics have single-handedly swung polls in the direction of public disbelief--and then adopt a warfare posture and "fighting back" strategy against skeptics--they call further media attention to the original "ClimateGate" event and feed the preferred narrative of skeptics.
If the tit-for-tat attacks from the tail ends of the spectrum on climate change continue unabated, what was once presumed influence on the part of these scientists will likely become real influence on public opinion, and scientists risk being partly responsible.
In other words, while some scientists may think that "fighting back" is the solution, they may actually risk further contributing to the problem of public disengagement and policy inaction. [More]

I will be writing more about in Top Producer about this mistaken strategy, but for now, I second the opinion above.


Anonymous said...

Good suggestion but I am afraid it will be for naught. Excuse my bluntness but the problem is that there are a lot of people in ag journalism who see conflict and rallying the troops as a way to keep readers and paid subscribers. They are just as bad on facts and distortion as the opposition. IMHO this is not so much about anger and frustration at the farm level as it is controversy manufactured and kept aflame by the ag journalists and of course, the paid attack dogs in the commodity organizations, who always have to justify their existence by picking a fight with some perceived enemy. If it is not Michael Pollan then HSUS will do or someone else yet to be identified. For better or worse these " ag journalists" have learned a lot from Fox News Corp on how to keep the pot boiling.

From Virginia said...

While it may be distasteful, anyone who has participated in a political campaign knows you have to do both. You have to get your affirmative message out, but you also have to answer attacks and indeed, counter attack when necessary. Agriculture has lacked a comprehensive coordinated campaign to address the trust and image issues of modern production agriculture. There are some ongoing discussions that may change that in the coming year.