What's the matter with Kansas?
Kind of an off-putting, judgmental question. Kansas is full of nice people, and sniffy coastal dwellers might be interested to know that there are fine places to see in Kansas - the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (pictured), for starters. (Photo: USFWS)
The climate, however, can be rather beastly at times. Best not to mention it.
Which is how clean energy got a toehold in a half-dozen Kansas towns. A non-profit called the Climate and Energy Project tried a behavior change campaign that talked up the value of efficiency and renewables by couching it in tried-and-true beliefs that pushed the right buttons.
Al Gore was nowhere to be found. Nor was there any talk of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in front of townspeople who by and large have not accepted the conclusions of climate science.
Instead, highlighting the tight fit that clean energy has with thrift and stewardship seems to have worked in reducing energy consumption and encouraging use of renewable energy sources. Thrift and stewardship are traditional conservative values - which, by the way, are wholly alien to poseurs like Rush Limbaugh, who likes to brag about how much energy he wastes.
The Climate and Energy Project's approach took note that resistance to climate change science has cultural and psychological dimensions. A study carried out by Yale and George Mason University scholars found that rejection of climate change evidence does not stem from careful empirical reviews that have found the evidence wanting. Instead, it is rooted in the social groups that people identify with, how they believe the world should operate, and the concomitant filters through which facts are sifted and perceptions formulated.
It doesn't help that climate change is not an in-your-face, unavoidable threat - like a flood or wildfire, for example. It's out there beyond the immediate, a lurking shadow that might cross the mind now and then but doesn't rattle the gut except for the small minority of activists who live and breathe climate change 24/7.
Climate change is not your father's or grandfather's environmental issue. Doing something about the choking smogs of Los Angeles or the burning river in Cleveland was relatively easy. Attacking climate change and the wasp's nest of energy vulnerabilities that go along with it will take a far more sophisticated strategy that deals not only with facts but, as one risk communications expert put it, respects "the way those facts feel."
In Kansas and everywhere else.
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