It’s Time for a Big Tent on Climate Change. It’s Time for Climate Hawks.

Written by David Connell on . Posted in Act

Environmental groups, international aid organizations, the vast majority of world leaders, and 97 percent of climate experts know that climate change is happening and is a threat to natural systems, global communities, and the future stability of nations.

We hear from these groups constantly on the realities of climate change. They are the ones we all expect to be sounding the alarm. But it’s wrong to view the climate change conversation through such a narrow lens. In reality, the climate change tent is much bigger. Others calling for immediate action on climate change include:

In fact, the vast majority of Americans – 63 percent – believe that the effects of climate have already begun or will begin within their lifetime.

Why, despite all of this support has America failed, time and again, to enact comprehensive common sense climate change legislation?

One reason is that those concerned about climate change have allowed a vocal minority to frame the conversation and create distractions through manufactured controversies, false questions about consensus and political posturing. At the same time, those most vocal about the climate change problem have done a terrible job of engaging in an inclusive conversation on the issue.

Despite having the majority on our side, we segment ourselves into off-putting sects like “environmentalism.” We are suspicious of groups that agree with us on climate change but who disagree with us on other social and political issues.

This two-headed monster has created a near intractable communications problem around the climate change issue. It’s gotten to the point that anyone speaking out on climate change seems foreign and radical when, in truth, most Americans agree climate change is a real and present danger.

How can we get the conversation back on track and get to a point where we can start enacting real solutions?

First and foremost, those who are most passionate about climate change action need to drop our self-righteousness, reach out to the many groups who are with us on the issue and demonstrate that there is consensus. To do this, we need to take climate change out of the rubric of environmentalism and create a new movement that is inclusive and lives outside of political posturing and tree hugging. Let’s face it – you can support fighting climate change because you own an advanced battery manufacturing plant and still hate Al Gore and drive a Hummer. That’s fine, America needs you and we need your batteries. We can talk about the Hummer some other time.

This is where climate hawks come in. Back in October, Grist writer David Roberts (and 226 commenters) put a lot of thought into what we should call people who care about climate change and clean energy. The term he landed on was “climate hawks,” a brilliant turn of phrase that is all at once American, forward leaning, tough and – because it borrows from a Republican foreign-policy stance – non-partisan. It’s the type of phrase that has the ability to cross social and political divides and bring veterans together with environmentalists and hunters together with international development advocates.

Since October, the climate hawks movement has moved steadily along. It has a Twitter account with a modest following and its own patriotic logo/bumper sticker thanks to graphic designer Joe Immen. But it hasn’t really caught fire in the way I thought it might. The few people who do use the term are the same people who have been talking about climate change all along.

So this is a call to action. You know climate change is happening and is a clear and present danger, so become a climate hawk. Start using the term to refer to those who want to attack the climate change threat from all angles – from clean energy to fighting deforestation to adapting to changes that are already occurring.

Most importantly, reach out to others who are concerned about climate change but feel excluded from the conversation. Find a climate hawk who you might not agree with on other issues, start a dialogue, and find solutions you can both get behind. To win this fight, we’re going to need an entire country full of red, white, and blue climate hawks.

David Connell is associate director of strategic communications for digital marketing at The Nature Conservancy

(Image: Climate Hawk logo by Joe Immen.)

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Comments (5)

  • Lonnie Avery


    My climate story is about living in New york State from the Canadian boarder to the tip of Manhattan. It is about missing the critters and wildlife and watching what people are ding to this land,air and water.


  • Dorothy


    I believe that to try to legislate climate change is futile and would only waste trillions of dollars that could otherwise be used to help people in poverty and to help protect wilderness areas. Bureaucrats simply can not be trusted. Every major program they touch gets broken. I’m not even so sure those “scientists” can be trused when there is so much grant money at stake. The “scientists” remind me of career politicians. Look at medical research……one moment “this” is good for us, the next moment it is bad for us. One moment “this” medication will cure you, but then we learn that it does more harm than good. We learn that “scientists” working for pharmaceutical corporations are intentionally falsifying their data to make their own formulae look good and to make natural herbal treatments looks bad. We learned similar things about climate “scientists” who falsified data and made fraudulent statements for MONEY and/or political ideology.

    I am sorry to sound so negative. I truly love all things nature, and I spend a great deal of time and money doing what I can to help our world. But I’m also a realist. While the scientists are applying for grants to study climate change, they are intentionally ignoring the changes in the Sun, and the changes in the magnetic field of planet Earth. Because we don’t have the power to do anything about those things, but if we can blame mankind for climate change, we can make governments spend trillions of dollars to “fix” it. So a handful of politicians and scientists get rich while society continues to struggle, and while our envoronment continues to be assaulted by millions of littering idiot who just love to hike to the most beautiful spots but think it’s perfectly acceptable to leave behing empty cigarette packs, gum wrappers, beer bottles and cans, snack wrappers and a virtually infinite amount of other trash. Have you hiked any nice trails lately?? Look around if you do, and you will see what I am referring to.

    Before our manufacturing facilities can become truly environmentally friendly, the owners and upper managers must have the correct mindset. They do not, hence the problems will persist. For every law aimed with good intentions to help negate “climate change” there will be at least 2 loopholes those people will find. There always are. And any/all expenses incurred will ultimately be passed on to the consumer. All for no true benefit. Climate change is a very slow process. We can afford to take a little time to implement a plan of attack. If we could, for example, raise a generation of children who believe nature and the environment was supremely important, THEN perhaps we would start to see some real progress. Unfortunately, the current crop of mega-littering entitlement-minded wanna-be hip-hop thugs is not going to be on board with fixing the planet. As cell phone costs become lower and lower, or government programs give more and more free cell phones out, the litterscape will shift from plastic and paper to a mix of throw-away electronics and lithium-ion batteries.

    My take on legislating climate change is along the lines of what happened with legislating products containing lead. Bureaucrats went after electronics manufacturers, but completely missed lead-acid car batteries, fishing weights and bullets, the combined weight of which was something like a gazillion times the amount of lead found in electronics. I wonder if anybody at all researched how many fishing weights and bullets are left in the environment every year. I bet not.

    Please don’t interpret this rant as being anti nature — it is not. If there was any hope of “climate change” and/or “clean environment” legislation with a shred of common sense and that stood a snowball’s chance in hell of working, I would applaud. But there isn’t, and there won’t be.


  • James B. Donaldson


    I want to thank Mr Joe Immen for his great artistry in designing this logo. I have ordered 5 bumper stickers, and will pass some to friends.


  • S. Collins, from La.


    I agree with you very much. There is far too much polarizing going on, but we also have to win back those who believed in the “climate gate” scandal, and thought it was real. That side-tracked the whole issue and gave so many people cynical, negative attitudes about the issue. We need to also keep pointing out the strange, extreme weather we have been having, and not just shrug it off. It seems like even the Weather Channel is not nearly as vocal about climate change as they were before. But I am seeing TV programs about it on so many cable channels now. And that’s great. But we need to get it onto the network stations too. We need to spread the word in every way possible.


  • Ernest R. Chase Jr.


    Dear Sir or Madam, February 9, 2011

    Please do all you can to start having Earth Day Every Day.

    Sincerly Ernest R. Chase Jr.


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