Bill Clinton Talks Climate Change Better Than Anyone

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I've been reading Joe Romm's new book Language Intelligence (review incoming), which focuses on how communicators can better mold their language to get their points across in today's media-rich environment. Especially in regards to climate change. There's been plenty of discussion of how we talk about global warming of late, and why none of our leaders seem to be doing a particularly good job at it right now.

Then I saw this. Few people are better at getting a message across than Bill Clinton, who, while not known for being a staunch advocate for addressing climate change, has on multiple occasions voiced full-throated—and well-worded—support for clean energy, energy efficiency, and getting our act together on global warming.

Over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, John Whibbey collects some of the explainer-in-chief's best climate-isms. Here's a sampling:

Climate Denial Should be ‘Politically Unacceptable’

“If you’re an American, the best thing you can do is to make it politically unacceptable for people to engage in denial. I mean, it makes us — we look like a joke, right? You can’t win the nomination of one of the major parties in our country if you admit that the scientists are right? That disqualifies you from doing it? You could really help us there. It’s really tragic because we need a debate in America, and in every country, between people who are a little bit to the right and people who are a little bit to the left about what the best way is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. What is the most economical way to do it? What will get more done quicker? There are all these things that in any other country would occupy a lot of space on the ideological spectrum from right to left, and we can’t have this conversation because you’ve got to deny it?”

Clinton said this at his annual CGI meeting; I reported more on the remarks here.

"Saving the Planet is Better Economics"

“My strategy on [engaging deniers] is very simple. Some people who are climate skeptics are climate skeptics because it’s in their interest to be. They just want to preserve the old energy economy, and there’s not much I can do about that. But what I am trying to do, literally all the time, is to prove that saving the planet is better economics than burning it up. Not 10 or 20 or 50 years from now — [but] now."

"We Ought to Have a Tattoo Test"

“Those of us in this green energy field, we ought to have a tattoo test. The more people with visible, impressive tattoos who advocate green energy and understand what it does for a country’s economy, what it does for its country’s independence and what it does in the fight against climate change, the more we’re going to have success in Washington, D.C…. Think about the tattoos. You win the tattoo vote, we’ll have the damnedest environmental policy you ever saw.”

Climate Change and "A Stakeholder Society"

“Our diversity is important. Differences of opinion are important. You know things I don’t. Nobody is right all of the time. A broken clock is right twice a day. All of us are living between those two extremes. If your purpose is to reach an agreement, then your disagreements become exceedingly valuable, because they give you a better outcome. If your purpose is winner-take-all, then your disagreements are paralyzing and doom you to fail. Which is why I keep pushing people to do something [on climate change] with somebody else, even if it seems too small against the big problem. We are going to have to become a stakeholder society again. That’s the only thing that works.”

Feel that? How each snippet is framed with a memorable anecdote or a folksy aphorism that helps his points about addressing climate change connect? Clinton always goes for the gut, even when he's dealing with wonky material — that's his great gift as a politician. Anyone who talks climate can learn a thing or two from his messaging tactics; keep it simple, tell stories, use metaphors, repeat yourself. Get people listening.

Head over to Yale for more climate change Clintonisms.

Tags: Bill Clinton | Global Climate Change