Editorial on climate change falls short, only warming up old arguments

Today’s editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle asserts why Gov. Andrew Cuomo should become a high-profile champion of environmental issues and “lead on climate change.” While it effectively and appropriately captures a sense of urgency, the Editorial Board fails to reach a broader audience due to its heavy dependence on old arguments, which ultimately weigh down the message.

First, the editorial targets government as the necessary stakeholder to take on the cause. Simply put, environmental issues are not likely to mobilize voters or win Gov. Cuomo’s reelection campaign. Second, the editorial cites the damaging effects of climate change instead of embracing the promise of economic opportunity. Third, the Board takes a tangent on emissions — an issue already being aggressively addressed at the Federal level by the Obama administration for both consumers and businesses. Fourth, is it always necessary to make the tired comparison between upstate and downstate? Lastly, leading on climate change alone is not enough to drive the necessary and collective action from both private and public interests.

For these reasons, the Democrat and Chronicle‘s editorial ultimately energizes readers already passionate about climate change and only reinforces other readers who share the perception that the Democrat and Chronicle leans too liberal. By failing to cover new ground on climate change, the Editorial Board missed an opportunity to recast such challenges within the context of economic and business opportunities for both the Rochester region and New York State. While its argument covers some concerns of business, it favors reactive measures that fall short of any enterprising, growth-oriented inspiration that may attract broader, business-minded entities.

This idealistic approach has long existed on the types of issues typically associated with Democrats and progressives. Danny Concannon, the fictional Washington Post reporter from the decade-old TV show “The West Wing” puts it best. In the episode “Guns not Butter,” Concannon rants about Democrats’ failures on a Senate vote on foreign aid. He says:

“Nobody wants to put money in a hat in Botswana when you got hats that need filling here. You can’t make this about charity. It’s about self-interest. We cut farm assistance in Colombia; every single crop we developed was replaced with cocaine. We cut aid for primary education in northwest Pakistan and Egypt; the kids went to Madrassas. Why weren’t you making a case that Republican senators are bad on drugs and bad on national security? Why are Democrats always so bumfuzzled?”

By comparison, foreign aid is to charity as climate change is to humankind’s duty to reverse the impacts of global warming.

Motivating businesses to take the lead on climate change isn’t about global warming. Unfortunately, even though this argument makes complete and total sense in the hearts and minds of some (myself included), neither the United States nor New York State will advance significant progress on climate change with a guilt-ridden, geek-sponsored story about protecting our planet.

Instead, the focus on climate change should be led with a fact-based argument about the emerging revenues and profits that only the most enterprising businesses will seize. Make climate change about competition. Make climate change about growth. Make climate change about winning.

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