By Charlie Stott
On August 2, 2017, AIASF Committee on the Environment (COTE) convened an “SOS” Soapbox on Sustainability gathering at BAR Architects in San Francisco to engage the design community on one of the primary obstacles to acting upon climate change—political polarization—with the goal to find common ground and better connect with others, regardless of persuasion, about the critical issues and solutions surrounding climate change.
The evening program began with a Climate One video clip in which climate change activist Tom Steyer noted that 75% of Republican voters believe that government should promote renewable energy, in step with the business community’s increasing support on this issue. Yet because it is not conservative voters’ top concern, Republican politicians are not acting on their constituents’ views about the issue.
Sharing this discovery, moderator Mike Wong introduced conversational tools to steer divided groups toward their commonalities.
Certain terms have become emotionally charged in the climate discussion, but there are many others that are not so emotionally charged and can be used to build greater understanding and consensus on the topic.
Politically Charged Terms
- Climate change
- Global warming
- Energy independence
- Our children
Since more people can agree on the meanings of these broader, more neutral and less politically-loaded terms, it can set a softer tone among groups with diverging opinions by starting with these fundamental terms to move the conversation forward in a productive way.
An audience member cited activist Debbie Dooley, a conservative co-founder of the Tea Party and also an environmental conservationist, who advocates for using conservative-friendly terms when talking about climate change. Do NOT use the term “climate change,” Dooley says (pictured at left, on ClimateOne.org). Instead, describe climate strategies like clean energy in terms that conservatives will understand and embrace, such as: Free market competition, Choice, Innovation, Job Creation, American leadership, and Cost-effectiveness of clean energy.
Economic Case for Technology
Advances in technology and economies of scale are making products for energy efficiency as well as power generation more efficient and less expensive. The cost of renewable power has begun to out-compete some fossil fuel power costs.
Image: copyright EHDD Architecture.
Designers and builders seeking to innovate new technological applications in straightforward economical ways will be best set to succeed in this paradigm shift to a green economy.
Next Steps – So, what do we do now?
Whether we view climate change with a compassionate or with pragmatic perspective, architects, engineers, and contractors can lead by spreading the word of what is possible.
Learn and Share – Familiarize ourselves with the skills and technologies to execute zero net energy (ZNE) projects as well as learning to describe the value of these projects in terms that are “neutral”, simple to understand and that excite.
Reach out to conservatives such as Debbie Dooley and those in the design professions who are concerned about climate change and those who may be skeptical. Work side-by-side to find ways to collaborate on solutions.
- Engage with other AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) groups in California to magnify the communications effort.
- Stay hopeful! As Debbie Dooley reminds us, the EPA was begun during Richard Nixon’s presidency, and Ronald Reagan was a conservationist who signed the Montreal Protocol to ban fluorocarbons. In her words, “This earth belongs to all of us.”
This editorial was prepared or accomplished by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Board of AIA San Francisco.