Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Will Not Bore You To Death with This Blog Post: Why Negative Statements Make For Horrible Messaging

When you read the title of this post, it is likely that you immediately began to reflect on whether or not the contents of the post itself would bore you.  Why is he being so defensive about the non-boringness of his writing?  Has someone called it boring in the past?

I doubt you thought, "This will be the most lively and thought-provoking piece of writing I'll read all day."

Keeping this in mind, now look at the following graphic from the "Environmentalists for Obama" section of Obama's campaign site. 

The quote in the graphic comes from his speech at the DNC in Charlotte.  However, look at how he expresses his belief in climate change and the legitimacy and necessity of action:  'Climate change is not a hoax."

What is the most salient word in that sentence?  That's right:  hoax.

By repeating the language and argument of his opponents, like Sen. Jim Inhofe, he not only foregrounded it in his audience's minds, but he (more importantly and more destructively) legitimated the argument "climate change is a hoax" by deeming it worthy of counter-argument.  When the scientific consensus lies firmly on one side, there is no empirical debate about the existence of human-induced climate change; the debate is on just how damaging it will be and how much time we have left to take effective action.

Obama could have said, "My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is a real and pressing threat [to our health and security]."

Calling something "not a hoax" does not provide a compelling reason for action. It could not be a hoax but still not warrant our attention; it could not be a hoax but still be a minor problem.  However, climate change does warrant our attention and will soon become a major problem if not addressed, and we need affirmative, morally-driven calls to action and sound policy in order to move forward.

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