A Softer Sell on Climate Change

I believe that human-caused global climate change is the most serious existential threat to the human race short of nuclear war. It’s a catastrophe. So why do I want liberals to stop saying that it is?

Because talking about climate change like we have been is not working. How many times over the last couple of decades have you read or heard a news story that quotes experts as saying that we must act now to reduce greenhouse gasses or the window will close? But the window never actually gets shut. Experts urge urgency on us over and over again, and the result is that too many of us just tune them out. We’ve heard it before. Many times.

It seems to me that in order to understand American politics right now you need to understand the phrase “owning the libs.” It means that Donald Trump and his party find sport and profit in getting under the skin of humorless liberals, who oblige them by getting apoplectic at the slightest provocation. A perfect example was Trump awarding the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh at his State of the Union address a couple of years ago. That was pure owning of the libs. He even got Nancy Pelosi to tear up his speech as she stood behind them. Trump supporters loved it.

Here’s a rule of human behavior. Nobody likes to be lectured at. As adults, when scolded we tend to get our backs up because we don’t like to be talked down to; to be treated like children. So, the more liberals talk in cataclysmic terms about climate change and lecture others on what they must do to slow it, the further they push about half the population (75 million people voted for Trump) in the other direction. 

You want to reach people on climate change? This is not the way. Pexels.com

It was telling that Pres. Joe Biden in his State of the Union address didn’t even mention climate change by name. And when he did address the topic, he was understated. The policy solutions he proposed were modest and couched, not in apocalyptic terms, but in the idea of helping the middle class with their energy bills. 

I’m with Biden. I now believe that that’s the way to go, and not just on this issue. Liberals hurt their own causes when they preach about how much they know, and when they seem to suggest how others must live. Condescension is their way. They’ve read all the right books. They’ll give you recommendations so that you can be just as smart. Oh, who are we kidding? You’ll never be just as smart.

The backlash to liberal condescension — now that really is a crisis. I’m convinced that some not insignificant number of Americans oppose policies they might otherwise support just because they cannot stand liberals. They refuse to get vaccinated because they’re tired of being told they should. They pretend not to accept the election results because they love how that gets under the skin of Democrats. They deny climate change, which they know is real, just to annoy climate change activists. There is nothing better that liberals could do for their own causes than to stop making it so easy for them to be owned. 

To cool the planet, liberals need to cool the rhetoric.

And on another matter… the Packers and Aaron Rodgers will stay together. They’ll love each other whether… times are good or bad… happy or sad. The mystery turned out to be beautiful after all. This was the right move for both the team and for Rodgers. Whatever firepower the Packers will have to give up because of the salary cap, they’ve still got the best thrower-catcher combo in all of sports with Rodgers and Davante Adams. Those guys probably have three years or so left in the tank and, as long as they stay healthy, they pretty much guarantee playoff births for each of those years. And once they’re in the post season — at any seed — anything can happen. Had Rodgers gone to another team he’d have to start over building new relationships with players and coaches and they’d have to learn to deal with him… no easy job.

And on yet another matter… speaking of Green Bay, somebody sent me a fundraiser invitation that they received from Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay). The first line reads, “We’ve been through a lot over the past few years. I don’t know about you, but the only way I’ve managed to keep my sanity is by teaming up with friends and allies who center joy, radical care, and humility in all we do.” I didn’t know they talked like that in Green Bay — well, outside of Aaron Rodgers. I didn’t know anybody talked like that anywhere. And what the heck is “radical care”? Seriously, folks, this is a problem. Shelton is in a +10 Democratic district, so she can do whatever she wants, but when Democrats center joy and practice radical care they do not connect with average voters.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

3 thoughts on “A Softer Sell on Climate Change

  1. News organizations are complicit in the GOP’s efforts to “Own the libs”. I get it. It’s a business. But, we don’t have to comply. I refrain from clicking on any t****-related story. If enough of us stop clicking, the NYT and other news orgs will stop running the stories manufactured to elicit outrage from liberals. It’s all about clicks and eyeballs. Stop giving them yours.


  2. Dave, you make great point, once again, about being lectured to instead of having a discussion about climate change, formerly known as global warming.

    For me, I will know it’s serious when the powers that be take it seriously. By not taking private planes and mega yachts to climate change conferences. Either they attend by Zoom or fly commercial. And downsizing their lifestyle, i.e., house size and # of them, cars, etc…. And when Greta Thunberg has more followers than a Kardashian. Otherwise it’s meaningless talk, like the GOP and small government.


  3. Let me suggest Dave that the premise of this post is at fault. Very few, if any, actual climate scientists believe that human caused climate change is an existential threat to the human race, as you would say. Yes, there are politicians and some activists who make this claim — very few scientists. Not only is it not helpful, it’s also just plain wrong. Here’s Michael Mann for instance: “There is no evidence of climate change scenarios that would render human beings extinct,”

    When you claim liberals shouldn’t lecture others on what they should do to slow it, it’s the right prescription — for the wrong reason. “Owning the libs” is just off base here. Yes, telling people not to eat meat or stop flying on planes turns people off. But individual actions, by themselves, are simply not effective. Remember that it was BP that first came out with the individual carbon footprint calculator. They wanted everyone to look at their own footprint, not BP’s. We don’t need to ban cars — we need electric cars that gets their power from low carbon energy sources. Be a vegan if you want, but we need to replace fossil fuels in agriculture with low carbon alternatives. In short, we need an infrastructure based on renewables alongside firm, dispatchable energy sources like geothermal, nuclear and hopefully fusion in the next 30-50 years or so.

    Read Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist from Texas Tech, on how to find common ground with people in combatting climate change, not by shaming people. (Uh-oh, did I just tell you to read the right books? Yep, because we’re also not cultural relativists either. Some ideas are actually better than others.)

    In the end, most of us want a higher standard of living for the world AND a cleaner environment, not more belt tightening from some false sense of virtue.


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