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August 31 2012


Want to Communicate More Effectively? Buy Joe Romm's book Language Intelligence

If you are a blogger, a commenter, a tweeter, a public speaker or any type of communicator, you will benefit immensely from picking up a copy of Joe Romm’s fantastic new book, "Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga."

DeSmog readers are likely familiar with Joe’s incredible work over at Climate Progress, where he and his team – including my new friend Stephen Lacey, another fantastic writer – expertly cover the politics and science of climate change and energy issues. A big part of the secret to the success of Climate Progress is Joe’s communications expertise.

Language Intelligence has garnered incredible reviews and praise from a who’s who of top communicators, from Van Jones to Bill McKibben, Representative Ed Markey to Michael Mann and John Cook.

DeSmog contributor Chris Mooney, who interviewed Romm about the book on his Point of Inquiry podcast, says of Language Intelligence:

Everybody who cares about why science doesn’t get through to the public should read it.”

Romm covers everything about effective communication, from the critical importance of metaphors (especially extended metaphors), language simplicity, repetition, using figures of speech, creating anticipation through foreshadowing, and other persuasive rhetorical techniques. As Romm explains so well, the key to effective writing is to engage the reader’s emotions, and work to inspire and activate your audience through honest and powerful communication.

Romm also reveals that he speaks his blogs using dictation software, rather than typing. He uses MacSpeech Dictate, a piece of software that I’ve owned for years but only used extensively during a bout with carpal tunnel when typing was too painful.  I think I’ll dust it off and try it again, although I find that I type much more lucidly than I speak when developing thoughts. But I do actively ‘speak’ the words as I type them, which is the real point.

As blog writers, we need to remember that we’re having a conversation with our readers, we’re not writing academic papers or textbooks. 

As the 18th Century novelist, Laurence Stone, said: "Writing is but a different name for conversation."

This is also demonstrated in the story often conveyed to aspiring journalists about Boston Globe writing coach Don Murray walking into the newsroom and instantly declaring that he could identify the three best writers in the room. "How did you know?" asked the Globe’s editor. "Because their lips move when they write," Murray responded.

I am thrilled that Joe finally slogged through to the finish line after decades of ruminating over the concepts and language tips found within the pages of Language Intelligence. From now on, this book will be required reading for all of DeSmog’s writing fellows, and it should be on your desk as well.

I sure wish I had a copy of this book when I first started writing professionally about threats to our environment and democracy 15 years ago. As Van Jones says of Language Intelligence, I concur that “this book changed my life.”  

So go forth, ye aspiring (and accomplished) communicators, and buy Language Intelligence faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

Don’t feel as if you have to buy it today. Unless of course you’re wondering if it might change your life too?

February 22 2012


Evaluation shows "Faked" Heartland Climate Strategy Memo is Authentic

A line-by-line evaluation of the Climate Strategy memo, which the Heartland Institute has repeatedly denounced as a "fake" shows no “obvious and gross misstatements of fact,” as Heartland has alleged. On the contrary, the Climate Strategy document is corroborated by Heartland’s own material and/or by its allies and employees.

It also uses phrases, language and, in many cases, whole sentences that were taken directly from Heartland’s own material. Only someone who had previous access to all of that material could have prepared the Climate Strategy in its current form.

In all the circumstances – taking into account Peter Gleick’s explanation of the origin of the Heartland documents, and in direct contradiction of Heartland’s stated position – DeSmogBlog has concluded that the Climate Strategy memo is authentic. 

read more

June 16 2011


Ice Age Cancelled: Deniers Destined for Disappointment

The web is alive with idiotic commentary this week after the American Astronomical Society's solar physics division heard three new studies, all pointing towards declining sunspot activity into the next decade.

But while the least professional journals (see the Financial Post link above) presented only the possibility that reduced solar energy could chill the planet, even sometimes-skeptical newspapers such as The Telegraph responded to the responsibility to include some scientific response confirming that a Grand Solar Minimum, even if one occurred, would not be sufficient to offset the effects and dangers of human-induced global warming.

For more complete looks at the goofy claims of an impending ice age, and more thoughtful presentations of the science debunking such a chill, check out Peter Sinclair's take on Climate Denial Crock of the Week or Joe Romm's at ClimateProgress.<!--break-->

April 25 2011


Climate Policy Failure, and Laying Blame

Joe Romm battled extensively with Matthew Nisbet last week over the latter’s sweeping attempt to redirect much of the blame for the failure to achieve a climate bill onto environmentalists, scientists, and Al Gore. (I had a few whacks at Nisbet too.) The implication of the Nisbet report was that the standard villains—climate deniers, the Kochs, the media, the perpetrators of ClimateGate and those who can’t stop talking about it—had wrongly drawn all the attention. If we want to be charitable to Nisbet, we might recast his message as: “but look at all these other things, too.” However, his report was framed in such a way that such nuance was largely lost (and Nisbet studies framing).

Now Romm is back,  with his own apportioning of blame. He even gives figures: 60 percent for the denial machine, 30 percent for the media, and the remaining 10 percent split between what he calls “think small” centrists and the Obama team. Huh.

I now think I can see from this that I’m somewhere between Romm and Nisbet.<!--break--> I would never downplay (as Nisbet did) all the attacks on science that have occurred. But I also would not exonerate environmental organizations. God knows they have their problems, and personally, I’ve felt that the inward firing squad is the biggest—and the lack of unity and common cause.

Nor would I completely exonerate scientists—and they’re not letting themselves off the hook either. They know they need to communicate better. The introspection and reflection going on in that world at the moment is a really impressive thing to see.

But Romm is right that science denial and the media (combined) have been the biggest problem. I don’t know about 90 percent, but surely in the 60-90 percent range.

How do you calculate these percents, anyway? To me, the main factors in attributing “blame” (and I don't think this is especially novel) are power and responsibility.

Thus, those who deny or attack climate science have a lot of power (through political influence, largesse, etc), and have done the wrong thing (responsibility) by undermining knowledge, disseminating misinformation, etc.

The media, meanwhile, also has vast power, and have done the wrong thing by not covering adequately the story of the century, and thus not living up to their societal responsibility.

Hence both deserve a lot of blame.

And of course here’s why scientists and environmentalists (and the Obama administration) are different: They didn’t misinform, and they wanted to do the right thing. Did they go about it the right way? Surely not, at least in many respects. And they do have power (especially Obama), so they are hardly blameless. But are they as blameworthy as those who have misled us, or those who ignored the problem? You see my point.

This may also explain why there was such a strong reaction to Nisbet’s report. While he might be willing to admit that much blame should  fall on the denial machine, the media, etc., his report was framed in such a way that it appeared to neglect them, while casting aspersions elsewhere. Thus, it seemed to shunt this power/responsibility dimension of laying blame.

By not showing outrage, it sparked outrage.

April 04 2011


The First Rule of Climate Science…May Be to Talk About Climate Anti-Science

Joe Romm, inspired by this Huffington Post piece, is going back to one of his top themes—you have to talk about the science of climate change; you can’t run away from it. That’s the blazoned headline—further down, Romm admits that the issue of how to communicate on this topic is exceedingly complicated, and

…nobody has figured out the best winning message –  probably because there is no one-size-fits-all message,  particularly in the face of  the most well-funded and sophisticated disinformation campaign in human history. That disinformation campaign complicates all messaging — and all message testing — since it is so pervasive and well-designed.

I agree with this last point most of all—and to me, it may possibly point to at least one effective communications strategy. However, I must admit that I'm hesitant to prescribe any some overarching guru messaging answer, for the reasons that Romm himself so eloquently explains. But maybe I can at least break the problem down a bit.

First, you really can’t talk about having a message strategy on global warming without talking about who the messengers are. Once you put it this way, you find that there has always been communication about the science of global warming—from scientists and scientific organizations, from science bloggers like Romm, RealClimate.org, DeSmogBlog, etc. This is just as it should be: It is important to set the record straight when false claims are aired and to explain how powerful the scientific consensus is, as well as to explain how we know what we know and what the mechanisms of climate change are.

<!--break-->However, this message, being fairly technical, can be difficult and audience-limiting. What Romm seems to be getting, at is the idea that large environmental NGOs, as well as the White House, ought also to be talking about the science of climate change, rather than using a poll-tested economic message about green jobs, competitiveness, and so on. This is trickier.

The core problem is that the issue is now completely partisan. We’re at a point now where many Republicans who hear about climate science shut it out almost immediately. They think it's a hoax. Meanwhile, the political reality is that you can’t do anything about the issue at least until the next election, due to the composition of Congress.

Finally, if you put a scientific message out there at the highest levels--e.g., from the president--you will quickly get a massive surge of doubt mongering and attacks on its technical validity. We know this--this is what Romm means about the "misinformation campaign"--and when it is unleashed, most Americans will not know how to judge who’s right and wrong. They'll throw up their hands, frustrated, disspirited, even angry.

In this context, do you really want the President arguing the science?

Here’s what I think. First, I think that the White House absolutely should have responded to “ClimateGate.” Romm suggests plans were ditched to do so. If so, that was a big mistake, because it allowed deniers to define the issue at a time when they had a far bigger media megaphone than they usually do. We’ve been living with the consequences ever since.

Second, I think president Obama should have seized the initiative more during the first two years of his presidency with a major speech on climate change—science and all—to put far more weight behind the issue than he ultimately did. That was the time to hit the issue hard, and to make a convincing case to the public, at least in part a scientific case. And it wasn’t done.

Third, I think that making people realize how climate change is going to affect them, wherever they live, is very important. States and localities should be hearing regularly about how their world is going to be changing, because it is doing so already. Communicating about local impacts of climate change is an ongoing process and, in fact, needs to be a constant and unending one.

Fourth—if we want to talk about the science of climate in a more concerted way right now, I want to throw out there the suggestion that the message may actually be about the scandal of anti-science. It would be an expansion of the theme that Paul Krugman hits today—the complete outrage of ignoring science at our peril.

Talking about the science inevitably leads to a "he said, she said" over its validity. If you have a big enough audience (as Kerry Emanuel did  last week) then there will be an assault on your facts. It's like clockwork.

But talking about the anti-science puts the "he said, she said" in its needed context. When skeptics and deniers try to argue back scientifically, this message essentially says, I told you so. It is also highly motivating, and generates outrage.

So I think that, while on the defensive about this issue (as we are now), this may be the way to be discussing it. However, I also hope this will be taken as a suggestion, not as an answer. Like Romm, I caution that this topic is very complex and difficult, there is no one-size-fits-all, there are many messengers with many roles to play--and we should be skeptical of anyone claiming to have the absolute final answer. 

January 07 2011


Carbon Tracker: NOAA Graphic Lays Out the Bad News

Joe Romm at ClimateProgress has turned up this amazing YouTube video, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Carbon Tracker. The first section shows the rise of CO2 in the last 30 years (it starts to feel like a cockroach crawling up your leg). The second section uses climate reconstructions to back up 800,000 years, to put the current crisis into context. Fabulous, in a scary kind of way ...


August 10 2010


ClimateOne: Climate Progress Publisher Joe Romm at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

I recently attended the following ClimateOne event with Joe Romm, publisher of ClimateProgress and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Romm addresses inaction in Congress on climate, and the inadequacy of the scientific community to deliver their message in the face of the powerful and organized disinformation campaign arrayed against it. A topic we will take up later in a subsequent post.

March 02 2010


Is AccuWeatherGuy Joe Bastardi Stupid or Dishonest?

Joe Romm at Climate Progress does a wonderful job here of deconstructing the insensible blathering of AccuWeather long-range forecaster Joe Bastardi, a man who dismisses climate change as "this red herring of an issue."

Amid his ravings, Bastardi complains that "many of the high circles out there with alphabet soup in front of their names" consider him "stupid," a contention that Romm generously refutes, saying:

"For the record, I don’t think he's stupid.  Stupid people rarely rise to a position of influence necessary to cause as much damage as Bastardi does."

Romm is right about so much, it seems churlish to argue with him on so trivial a point. But read Romm's post and ask yourself: If Bastardi doesn't suffer from terminal stupidity, what other pathology could explain his twisted position on climate science?<!--break-->

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