By John Droz, Master Resource
“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?
To identify optimum tactics, we need to start with a clear idea of who the opposition is–and what are their strengths and weaknesses. A careful assessment of this situation will reveal the reality that citizen groups fighting alternative energy promoters are the underdogs.
Briefly, the opponents are:
1 – The Wind Industry [lobbyists (e.g. AWEA), manufactures (e.g. Vesta), developers (e.g. Iberdrola), installers (e.g. Horizon), investors (e.g. Goldman Sachs), and some utilities].
2 – Most large mainstream environmental organizations (e.g. Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists).
3 – Some labor unions and businesses.
4 – Many Academics (e.g. at Pace, Stanford).
5 – Many of our representatives and agencies: Federal (e.g. Congress, DOE, FERC); State (e.g. legislators, PSC, DEC); Local (e.g. county, town board, planning board).
6 – Some of their neighbors (e.g. lease granting landowners, well-intentioned environmentalists).
Their adversaries’ strengths are:
1 – Many more people
2 – A lot more money
3 – Better marketing/PR skills
4 – More media support
5 – More political power
6 – A cause that has intuitive appeal (“all of the above energy options”)
Rather daunting, right?
Well, for comparison, what chance did George Washington’s ragtag group of untrained, unfunded volunteer farmers and fishermen have against the largest, well financed, most professional army and navy in the world?
The only chance that an outnumbered, out-gunned group has for winning is to take the high ground, and to exploit the enemy’s weakness. Fortunately, Big Wind has a fatal deficiency:
There is no scientific proof that wind energy is a NET societal benefit.
For example, wind is not reliable energy, or economical energy, or an environmentally friendly source of energy. Wind does not reduce our dependence on oil, or replace conventional power plants, or significantly reduce CO2 emissions, or create net jobs, etc.
Groups that focus on effectively attacking this weakness will succeeded more than others who do not.
Note that I haven’t mentioned aspects like turbine setbacks. There is nothing wrong with hitting that issue (or others) — as long as they are presented as just a part of the REAL problem:
There is no scientific proof that wind energy is a NET societal benefit.
The understanding that needs to be fully grasped by all concerned citizens is this: even if a wind related issue important to them is reasonably addressed (e.g. large setbacks are granted), that does NOT then make industrial wind energy a good thing! All it would do would be to make industrial wind energy less bad.
This is so because such a change would only address a small part of the Big Picture. Such a “concession” would certainly not fix the fundamental deficiency that there is no scientific assessment proving that wind energy is a net societal benefit.
The bigger picture perspective is that we should be promoting “All of the Sensible” — in contrast to the inane “all of the above”. What defines “sensible”? Well that is the type of productive conversation we should be engaging it — as vs such absurdities like: where are the “best” offshore wind locations?
In my 30+ years of fighting for various environmental causes, I have found that:
1 — Many citizens will get engaged if the issue is presented to them in the right way.
2 — If enough citizens speak up constructively, almost all self-serving representatives will back down.
3 — Citizens will take action to censure or remove non-compliant legislators — as they are no longer “representatives.”
4 — Active media support and the assistance of other organizations can be very helpful.
To maximize their chance at success, a citizens’ group must:
1) be organized,
2) be on the same page,
3) clearly understand the issues, and
4) employ effective PR techniques.
Is this easy to do? No! It largely depends on the abilities of the group’s leaders.
I compare it to baking a cake from scratch. To have it come out right they need to follow all the directions, carefully. Periodically I hear from groups that are not doing too well, and they insist that they are doing everything I’m advocating.
But they usually are like bakers who wing it. When I look into their situation it turns out that they have only some of the ingredients. Additionally they did not combine them in the right sequence, or with the proper amount.
We have a formidable adversary, so doing things just right is essential to maximize the likelihood of prevailing.
Our network’s new website, WiseEnergy.org, is an extraordinary collection of resources to help make this battle less one-sided.
Make sure to print out, study and use What Not To Say, which summarizes what I believe is the optimum strategy to usually take. I also recommend seeing an apropos (and inspiring) movie: Amazing Grace.
If all else fails, U.S. citizens have a nuclear option, which is applicable in most cases: a federal 1983 lawsuit (see #5). Other countries may have similar recourse if they engage a competent and aggressive lawyer.