The Environmentalist Rhetoric Guide

water water everywhereMarket research surveys commissioned by one of the nation’s largest environmentalist groups advises activists to “talk about yourselves as conservationists — not environmentalists,” “do not make global warming/climate change the primary rationale for conservation,” “do not use the threat of ‘sprawl’ unless with core supporters,” and “do not focus on ‘green’ jobs as a primary rationale for conservation.”

These quotes are found in a pair of documents, one from 2004 and one from 2013, that expose what might be called the environmental movement’s political messaging intended for public consumption.

The documents are based on research commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, which is generally considered to be less strident than most environmentalist organizations. The older one is located on a website of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, among the “course documents” for “Communicating Conservation to Citizens: Communications Course 2009.”

The documents take the form of reports by two opinion research firms, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates; and Public Opinion Strategies. These same companies were used recently to provide a dubious and nontransparent poll claiming a majority of “Michigan’s business leaders” support President Barack Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

The reports include comments such as “scientists clearly link global warming to increasingly extreme weather events.” Such unqualified statements reveal the point of view of the researchers, which is expressed along with the findings of their research.

Here are a few excerpts from the documents:

From the 2004 document — “Do talk about yourselves as ‘conservationists’ — not ‘environmentalists.’  This bears repeating. Voters are more likely to view themselves as ‘conservationists’ than ‘environmentalists.’ Moreover, in the focus groups, there was a decided skepticism about the agendas of some ‘environmental groups’ who engage in land preservation.”

From the 2013 document — “Do not make global warming/climate change the primary rationale for conservation. While scientists clearly link global warming to increasingly extreme weather events that affect the safety of people and communities, it is not yet perceived similarly by the public. The most politically polarizing rationales for conservation are those that position climate change as the primary reason for engaging in conservation. Republicans and Independents rated these messages significantly lower than other rationales in support of conservation.”

“However, referring to climate change in passing as part of a broader argument for conservation has generally not had a significant impact — positive or negative — on responses. In the interest of continuing to expand and reinforce public attention to this vital issue, incorporating subtle references to climate change into otherwise strong messages may be advisable. This, however, is an area where location specific research is likely critical.”

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