Earlier this year, I attended a non-eco event that necessitated a longish subway ride. My reading material for the ride (one of the great advantages of not driving) was Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth. Having since completed reading it, my copy is now littered with Post-it notes.
A friend attending the event looked at the book under my arm and asked, somewhat aghast, “why would you want prosperity without growth?” It took me a few seconds to grasp that that she thought the book was advocating financial prosperity over personal growth.
Easy enough to understand in retrospect, the reaction brings up one of the major stumbling blocks of EcoOptimism and of environmentalism generally: how do we not only convey the message, but put it in sound-biteable, appealing terms? Or put another way, where’s our version of Frank Luntz?
For better or worse, most environmentalists are liberals and it’s a truism that liberal goals don’t often translate well into catchy slogans. The earliest evidence of that I can remember was the Vietnam War era bumper sticker that read “America. Love it or leave it.” Why did we never see something like “America. Fix it or lose it?” Where’s the equivalent to “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” or “Drill, baby drill?”
Who’s got the better messaging?
I do recall — or perhaps I’m wishfully riffing on a Saturday Night Live line — bumper stickers that read “The Great Silent Majority is Neither.” (By the way, always fact check. When I looked up “the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire” just now, my dependency on pop culture was revealed. Turns out it’s attributed to some dude named Voltaire, not Mike Myers.)
One of the relatively rare examples of a really catchy green slogan, “Don’t Mess with Texas” began as a statewide anti-littering campaign, as recently pointed out in “Making Green More Macho.” So successful, in fact, that it’s been adopted and transformed for other purposes.
I’ve had a few, probably lame, attempts at channeling my inner sloganeer. Since the day I signed up for Facebook (you know, eons ago), my “political views” have read “Tax Pollution, Not People.” Personally, I thought it was pretty catchy. But I’m still waiting for it to catch on.
Can we/should we play the sound bite game? It’s tough to explain in a few short words why, for example, a growing GDP is probably not a good thing. Or why a carbon tax is. I think, though, it’s a game we can’t just opt out of, which means we have to play it better. (Please don’t make me use a sports metaphor.)
Enter your suggestions in the comments. And, by the way, as a non-car owner (I prefer the term car-free), I need to find a substitute for bumper stickers.