Vaccines and Carbon: the role of Passion, Misinformation in Policy Debates.

A recent Onion ‘opinion piece’ (article here: http://www.theonion.com/articles/i-dont-vaccinate-my-child-because-its-my-right-to,37839/ ) about the current outbreak of measles perfectly highlights one the biggest challenges of effectively addressing the regulatory and institutional roadblocks to a carbon efficient economy.

I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back, the title reads, facetiously highlighting the role of emotion in public policy debates.  Few would argue that parents ought to have the right to decisions they consider to be in the best interest of their children.  When it comes to vaccines, the science is clear, there is no correlation between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder (the biggest fear of the anti-vaccine camp).  The correlation between viral outbreaks and (even small) gaps in vaccination of the general population is very clear, however.  But to parents with real concerns all the supporting evidence and scientific consensus doesn’t amount to squat.  Their motivations are emotional.  Scientific debates are rarely phlegmatic.  Another recent example is the vote in Portland, Oregon to continue to withhold fluoride treatment from public drinking water due to irrational fears of neurological damage and bone cancer, among other trumped up pseudoscience (more info here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/but-not-simpler/2013/05/22/why-portland-is-wrong-about-water-fluoridation/).  In light of such fiery passions surrounding contemporary policy debates an effective and targeted PR campaign to change hearts and minds may the biggest missing component to effecting real change.

The current debate surrounding governor Inslee’s climate legislation parallels these debates in a number of ways.  There is scientific consensus, and there the most logical and persuasive data based arguments have already been made.  A look at the various advocacy groups at play in this debate, however, highlights the powerful role marketing and messaging can play.  The Washington Climate Collaborative, an advocacy group funded largely by the Association of Washington Business, is one of the main groups opposing the governor’s plan.   A person taking a look at their website could be understandably mistaken into the belief WCC is a climate advocacy group.  The website includes links to share stories of how you or your business has helped reduced your carbon footprint.  They also include ‘their plan’, a list of vague action items including ‘invest in road congestion relief to eliminate unnecessary idling’ among other broad, vague goals.  WCC opposes any carbon tax, however, for fear of its effects on business.  If this is the face of opposition to climate legislation, advocates are going to need make clear the emotional and pathos based argument for such legislation is necessary, or risk being the rightful losers of this debate.

 

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