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Can We Solve It Like This? Why the We Campaign Needs Change.
By Indy Media /
By Alex Steffen. From

We Can Solve It is barely out of the chute, and already there's widespread clamor in the green media that its approach is, well, flawed.

One of the biggest questions is why what's known about the project's $300 million three-year budget sounds like a dream campaign plan from 1989: heavy on expensive TV ads, media consultants, and the like, and extremely short on funding for items that could push much broader grass roots outreach... that as a campaign it is, as someone said to me this weekend, "way more Hillary than Obama."

Consider what Personal Democracy Forum had to say:

I wonder how much of that $300 million has gone into this too-slick web site. ...In a truly disempowering sense, the We campaign already has it all figured out — and all we, the robotic consumer people ... have to do is click here, buy this, give them our name and email address and the names and email addresses of our nearest and dearest and the problem will be solved! Hey, ad exec. people making millions of dollars, we regular people may have some ideas of what to do, who to talk to, how to organize ourselves that hasn’t been focused grouped and put into pale colors yet!

Others are more concerned about the actual messaging of the campaign itself. Beyond DC pointed out that the combined smart growth/ green building/ clean transportation approach that is our best bet to actually solve climate change is essentially completely missing:

When we heard about your latest operation, the We Can Solve It campaign, we clicked over excitedly to read the latest news and sign up to do our part. Unfortunately, when we got there our initial excitement gave way to disappointment. You spend plenty of time talking about techno wizardry and new sources of energy, but we pored over your solutions page and find nary a mention of anything about changing our gluttonous driving-based lifestyle. You have a whole section titled Cutting fuel costs on the road, but in the entire piece the message “drive less” is nowhere to be found. Tucked way down deep below whole chapters about minor subjects like light bulbs, properly inflated tires, and residential air filters, there’s a single sentence about public transportation and a passing reference to walking to work, but that’s the extent - a single sentence and a passing reference. Nowhere on the entire We Can Solve It site is there any mention about living in a walkable, urban community. Nothing about the damage caused by sprawl. Searches on your site for “transit“, “walkable“, “downtown” and “suburban” come up completely blank.

...Our auto-oriented lifestyles are the primary reason Americans pollute so much more than our first world cousins in Europe, so a shift to urban living is probably the single best thing anyone can do for the environment. We’re not asking you to redesign your whole campaign, just to add a paragraph here and there addressing the tough-but-important issues of sprawl and urbanism. All that stuff you say about light bulbs and air filters is well and good, and the stuff you say about wind power is great, but please Al, say this also: Moving to the city is good for the environment.

To which Steve Davis over at Smart Growth America added:

With one-third of our emissions generated by transportation, where we choose to live has quite possibly the largest ramifications on our own personal emissions. So it’s discouraging that the most well-known climate advocate running the most well-funded climate advocacy campaign doesn’t see encouraging more people to live in places where they have to drive less as an obvious — and simple — solution.

To which the Stranger's Erica Barnett (COI: my SO) simply adds "for such an enormous effort, it would have been nice to see some bolder suggestions than 'turn down the thermostat.'”

Personally, while I laud Al Gore's work and think the We Campaign is needed, I think it's a shame that actual systems shift is difficult to find in the campaign, and that a lack of imagination in the content is apparently being met by a lack of innovation in the delivery. There seems to me a risk that the We Campaign could end up as a $300 million pancake.

What would I suggest they do differently?

1. Maximize bang for the buck. Tap the expertise of the people who really understand the new campaign tools. $100 million a year is real money. For half of that, they could create a networked activism campaign unlike anything ever seen. No ad campaign, no matter how good, is going to be unlike anything we've ever seen.

2. Talk big. Don't follow the same life-style activism playbook that's failed consistently for the last 30 years. Talk about the big, systems-level changes that America is going to have to embrace and why they'll make us a better nation. Sure, mention the small steps, but focus on helping people connect to something larger than themselves and more likely to inspire action.

3. Fund vision. Fund actual descriptions and depictions of life in a climate-solved world. Run film contents, art shows, architecture competitions and the like, and promote the results. Ideas matter: spend the money to showcase them to new audiences. Help us imagine what we need to build.

4. Fire up the attention philanthropy. Much amazing, inspirational work goes unnoticed. The campaign could fund an amazing, unprecedented network of filmmakers, podcasters, bloggers, animators and journalists and connect them with scrappy media relations people who know how to get noticed in both the old and new media. If that network focused on highlighting the people, from all walks of life and all parts of the nation, who are trying to solve climate change in innovative ways, the multiplier effect (both in the media and for the people working on the solutions themselves) could be massively larger than anything a TV ad can do.

5. Multiply the messengers. Gore's Climate Project is a brilliant approach to training more people to become informed and effective advocates in their own communities, but much more could be done on this score, for cheap.

6. When it comes to delivery, get weird. Yes, it's extremely difficult to find and evaluate truly innovative social change ideas, but we know we can't get far enough, fast enough without really shaking things up. We also know that agencies and media consultants tend to get the big bucks after they've had their best ideas. The campaign would be much better off spreading the money around, wasting a bunch, but hitting on some amazing high-leverage ideas than wasting it all on mediocre, old-school approaches.

7. Give it to the people. Let them do real things with it. Get out of the way.

What would you suggest?

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Can We Solve It Like This? Why the We Campaign Needs Change.