“I used to believe that understanding the basics, being passionate, working hard, and being on the factually correct side of an issue was enough. These ingredients are necessary, but are not sufficient. We also have to use effective PR techniques. Properly phrasing our message, its timing, and getting it to the right people are critical.”
As a citizen, my hope is that our representatives make technical policy decisions based on genuine science. Such an assessment would thoroughly review all pertinent technical, economic and environmental (which includes health) aspects of what is being considered.
To date that has not been the case with energy and environmental policies. The main reason for this is that citizens are engaged in an epic battle with lobbyists (representing clients with financial and/or political agendas) — yet most people are not even aware of this war, and hardly any are properly prepared for such an engagement.
Not surprisingly, the results so far are that the lobbyists are winning in a rout.
What’s going on with industrial wind energy is a good example. Right now in the US there are over two hundred local groups fighting this scourge. By and large these are informal collections of local citizen volunteers, who commendably share a common interest in protecting their community from these special-interest promoters. Some of these groups have been successful, others not. What makes the difference?
I have put on an energy presentation to thousands of citizens in the Northeast US, and have had the privilege of speaking face-to-face with many of these good people. Additionally I have corresponded with thousands of other group members, worldwide. These groups are amazingly diverse when it comes to the members background, organizational structure, website, funding, message, activity, etc. Which ingredients are the keys for success?
Many complain that they could be more successful if they had more money. Surprisingly, from what I have seen, the amount of financial resources such groups have does not correlate well with success rate. For example there are organizations with paid staff, a formal board of directors, office space, a professional website, significant money for advertising, etc. — and they have accomplished less than some other organizations with zero funding, no hired staff, no board of directors, no office space, only a basic website, etc.
How can this be?
I used to believe that understanding the basics, being passionate, working hard, and being on the factually correct side of an issue was enough. Over thirty years in the trenches has showed me that all these ingredients are necessary, but are NOT sufficient!
Everything today is really about Public Relations (PR). A lot of this can be attributed to the Internet, which has spawned the perfect storm. For example, within a few minutes we can now send messages (for free) that are read by millions of people. That is an extraordinary and unprecedented power — and it is aggressively used by lobbyists.
At the other end, recipients are in overload, due to an incessant bombardment of these communiqués. It is extremely hard for almost anyone to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Couple this with the fact that our academic system is not teaching critical thinking, and marketers simply salivate. They see selling us their product like shooting fish in a barrel. Since almost no one has the time or inclination to actually study anything, most people usually end up making decisions based on superficial sound bites (like “free, clean & green”).
That might be fine for toothpaste, but when it comes to some of the enormous issues of our times (global warming, alternative energy, etc.), such a methodology is woefully inadequate.
What this says is that we have to properly utilize these current realities, if we have any expectation of success against the lobbyists.
Put another way, this means that in addition to getting organized, being educated, and working hard, we also have to use effective PR techniques. Properly phrasing our message, its timing, and getting it to the right people are critical. Most citizens are not good at this, while this is the lobbyists’ forte — which is a big reason why they are winning.
So, back to why a well-funded group has no guarantee of being more effective than one comprised of all volunteers. In my view, the key decision that any fighting unit has to make is: what is their battle strategy going to be?
[Part II recommends a strategy for citizens to win this war.]