Global Warming: Getting the Message to Main Street

Global Warming: Getting the Message to Main Street

Wall Street is getting the message about the need to curb global warming. Many big businesses are recognizing the extent and firmness of the scientific consensus, among them Dow, BP, Shell, General Electric, Wal-Mart and DuPont. These businesses are also moving to exploit the many profitable opportunities for businesses in the transition to a clean and efficient economy.

But the message is not getting through on Main Street. Though it's hard to generalize about America's 23 million small businesses, politically, this constituency is perceived to be:
  • Conservative and Republican
  • Suspicious of environmentalists
  • Hostile to government regulation
  • Remote from the debate over global warming
So it's going to take some doing to get the message across on Main Street, but the task is imperative if a sufficiently strong, broad-based consensus is to emerge in support of anti-global warming measures.

How does the message get communicated to small business people? To start, we have to recognize that small business is highly decentralized so outreach to small business people must be decentralized as well. Second, the message must be delivered in a way that it gets not only heard but heard respectfully.

Who is to be the messenger?

Now, the most avid proponent of action on global environmental issues is the green liberal/left. All over the planet, this group is laboring mightily to get central governments and big businesses to act. Fortunately, they are meeting with some success. But the green liberal/left is not the messenger to deliver the news to Main Street.

The green liberal/left has no credence with these people, in part because of its concentration on centrist solutions. Most conservatives and many moderates see centrist solutions as "big government" -- too expensive, too burdensome. Also, the green liberal/left is heavily identified with the Democratic Party, which raises partisan hackles.

To work, a decentralist strategy requires new messengers. Ideally, these new messengers must be indigenous to the community: voices that are already known and trusted locally when they speak out.

For this task, I nominate local science educators.

We need an "indigenous" science education initiative to help local science teachers disseminate new scientific findings on global warming in their schools and -- just as important -- in their communities.

For this purpose, I propose creation of a science education project that organizes local science educators -- in high schools, community colleges and local universities -- to educate local civic, business and church leaders about climate change science. For example, envision a science professor from a local college speaking at a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary or Kiwanis Club.

A good model for this decentralized outreach by local scientists already exists. It's the fight that science teachers are waging to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

Over 4000 science educators have formed the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a new organization to defend science from creationism, "creation science" and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution. NCSE is a clearinghouse for information and advice for local teachers, parents, school boards, the press, etc.

This model should be adapted to educate local business and civic groups about the science of global warming.

This approach might be first demonstrated and tested in Alaska, where severe storms, flooding and permafrost melting have caused widespread damage. Or it might be demonstrated in the Gulf Coast region where the local economy -- largely consisting of small businesses - has yet to bounce back from the impacts of Hurricane Katrina.

This decentralized approach will, I think, emphasize the science while de-emphasizing ideology and partisanship. Local small business people will get the message not from some fancy pants Ivy League professor, or from some anti-business tree-hugger, but from the person who taught their kids biology.

Byron Kennard is executive director of the Center for Small Business and the Environment.