Continuing my theme of responding to anti-environmentalists and climate deniers, it’s not enough to respond with a memorized litany of facts. It’s not enough to rattle off key stats that support doing the right thing for our environment. You have to be a good rhetorician. Take the offense, rather than automatically playing a defensive game. You need to understand tactics, where you use the facts within contexts to support your points. Facts have no meaning without context. “Thousands of turtles killed from pollution” is not going to get your opponent to listen, never mind flip positions. In fact, I’d argue that your oppenent shuts their brain down as soon as you say “turtle.” Conservatives will box you in, judge and dismiss you in a fraction of a second. “The spill costs BP billions of dollars in litigation.” Now that’s something a conservative can relate to. It’s tangible, it’s managerial. It’s not couched in a liberal philosophy. And it’s true. At this point, you’ll have their attention. “The Wall Street Journal shows it’ll cost them hundreds of jobs and reputation. Drilling for oil is necessary, but it has to be done in a less destructive way.” Now you’re leading the conversation by using language that both sides can agree on. You haven’t turned off your audience, and you haven’t given up your position. It’s just a better, more sensible way of framing the issue. It also shows respect to your opponent, who, I assure you, is not going away.
Conservatives are masters of rhetoric, and unfortunately environmentalists (on the whole!) are not. So, next time you discuss environmental policies, talk about the benefits. Challenge them to see that deregulation will cost the jobs of millions of people who work in the environmental sectors. This is why I’m enamored by one of my heroes, Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA. She understands the contours of the environmental debate more than anyone I can think of. Not only is she respecting her opponents, she provides the other side with facts that they accept, and cannot reject. Clean air and less pollution creates jobs. Period.
Check out her strong speech marking the 40th Anniversary of the CAA.
"(A)ir pollution has dropped over the last 40 years, our national GDP has risen by 207 percent. The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the costs of regulation. For every one dollar we have spent, we get more than $40 of benefits in return. Say what you want about EPA’s business sense, but we know how to get a return on an investment. In short, the Clean Air Act is one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half century. The irony is that one of the most economically successful programs in American history is also one of the most economically maligned. The Clean Air Act has faced incessant claims that it will spell economic doom for the American people.
Today’s forecasts of economic doom are nearly identical – almost word for word – to the doomsday predictions of the last 40 years. This “broken-record” continues despite the fact that history has proven the doomsayers wrong again and again.
In the 1970s, lobbyists told us that using the Clean Air Act to phase in catalytic converters for new cars and trucks would cause “entire industries” to “collapse.” Instead, the requirement gave birth to a global market for catalytic converters and enthroned American manufacturers at the pinnacle of that market.
In the 1980s, lobbyists told us that the proposed Clean Air Act Amendments would cause, quote, “a quiet death for businesses across the country.” Instead, the US economy grew by 64 percent even as the implementation of Clean Air Act Amendments cut Acid Rain pollution in half. The requirements gave birth to a global market in smokestack scrubbers and, again, gave American manufacturers dominance in that market.
Yet again in the 1990s, lobbyists told us that using the Clean Air Act to phase out CFCs – the chemicals depleting the Ozone Layer – would create “severe economic and social disruption.” They raised the fear of “shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets … office buildings, our hotels, and hospitals.” In reality, new technology cut costs while improving productivity and quality. The phase-out happened five years faster than predicted and cost 30 percent less. And, by making their products better and cleaner, the American refrigeration industry created new overseas markets for themselves.
In fact, thanks in no small part to the Clean Air Act, America is home to a world-leading environmental technology industry. By conservative estimates, in 2007 environmental firms and small businesses in the U.S. generated $282 billion in revenues and $40 billion in exports, while supporting 1.6 million American jobs.
As you can see, the Clean Air Act has not only reduced harmful pollution – it has also been particularly effective at proving lobbyists wrong. This law not only respects but thrives on the openness and entrepreneurship of our economy. It creates a “virtuous cycle” in which clean air standards spark new technology – serving our fundamental belief that we can create jobs and opportunities without burdening our citizens with the effects of pollution.”
Now it’s our turn to promote innovation, grow a clean economy, and address both the new challenges and the unfinished business of the Clean Air Act. This is an ambitious effort, one that follows in the extraordinary footsteps of the last four decades. I believe that we will have our own chance to make history with the work we will set in motion. And while I won’t be making any news here today, I do want to talk about what we’ve done so far – because we are off and running.