Don’t think of the Climate

Anyone who’s read George Lakoff’s book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” knows that framing is essential in political communication. I’m sure that book is required reading for anyone in politics.

After the fossil fuel industry has spent billions welding negative connotations to anything that even whispers the word “climate,” why is the Biden administration leading with that term for their energy program? Why not call it something like Sustainable Employment?

Jobs in the fossil fuel industry have been declining. Want a reliable job? Coal shouldn’t be your first choice. Solar jobs are increasing. Investing in renewable energy is more likely to create long-term employment.

Biden say he wants to be fossil-free by 2035. Think how that sounds: it sounds like fewer jobs. On the other hand, he could say that they plan to create six million new jobs in solar, wave, wind, insulation, and electric infrastructure by 2035. Think how that sounds: more jobs. New jobs is immediate. Fixing the climate is long-term. More jobs has an immediate impact on workers. Better climate might or might not. Go with the definite and the now.

There are many arguments for investing in sustainable jobs.

Our major economic competitor is China. They are investing heavily in sustainable jobs. We don’t want to be left behind. Why are we importing solar panels from China?

Russia is completely dependent on fossil fuel exports. It we lower the demand, Russia will hurt a lot. We are likely to do better with them if we have something they want other than oil drilling equipment. Sanctions on extraction equipment didn’t work too well.

We are an exporter of oil. If the rest of the world uses less, our exports will decline. Instead, we could become an exporter of sustainable technology.

We have an enormous solar capability: think western deserts — Mohave, Sonora. All we need is access to the grid. And we can make the grid more efficient while we’re at it. Once we get it right here, we can export the technology to the Sahara and power all of Africa. That continent has the fastest growing population.

Renewable energy comes online faster than nuclear. It takes years to build a nuclear plant, and we have to store the waste. Renewable facilities are built in months.

Sustainable jobs create more sustainable jobs. Solar fabrication at scale leads to solar installers, grid improvements, and battery development. More electric cars need more charging stations and more grid.

If the United States leads the way, others will follow. If we lead, we will have a technology advantage. If we follow, we lose that advantage and have to buy the technology from others. That’s a recipe for decline.

Notice that these last paragraphs do not contain the word “climate.” Losing the Sustainable Employment race is a more immediate existential crisis.

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