Fighting like you mean to win

I had meant to write something substantive on the politics-of-not-playing-politics evident in all aspects of the Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath, but circumstances have conspired to prevent me from doing so. I also have two deadlines in the coming week. So just a quickie, via George Darroch: What climate activists need to learn from the NRA and the gun-control wars.


I’ve made the argument before that climate change, having as it does the weight of scientific orthodoxy behind it, should be an easy win in the battle of ideas. That it isn’t, I believe, is due less to the powerful business cartels and their conspiratist minions arrayed against it, and more down to poor strategy and coordination on the part of those responsible for ensuring that the findings of the science are adequately promulgated throughout society, and for ensuring the policy responses to the problem are appropriate.


As gun control advocate Robert Walker argues in the linked post, those people — both the scientists and the political actors — can learn an awful lot from the NRA. Despite being pretty far out on the lunatic fringes even in the US political context, the NRA has simply phenomenal support both among gun users and those for whom the specifics of the debate have no direct relevance. They have this degree of support largely because they have succeeded in propagandising that issue to the point where its symbolic aspects matter more than its functional, material aspects. Doing this — breaking your topic from being a policy matter to being a symbolic matter in the public consciousness — is hard and complicated work, and you have to fight as if you mean to win; to not underestimate your enemy or permit your campaign to be hijacked by incompetence and vainglory. But if the NRA can do it with an issue like gun ownership, arguing for which on rational policy bases is deeply problematic, then surely those responsible for climate science can do as much. How they might do so is sketched in Walker’s article.


4 thoughts on “Fighting like you mean to win

  1. I had meant to write something substantive on the politics-of-not-playing-politics evident in all aspects of the Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath, but circumstances have conspired to prevent me from doing so.

    Yes, I think this is an important topic. How is it that right wing politicians have got all the media coverage with respect to their participation in responding to the earthquake. All local politicians have been out there supporting and trying to help their constituents. This has included Jim Anderton, and the Labour Party MPs who have recorded their experiences and the relevant issues on Red Alert (Brendon Burns, Clayton Cosgrove, Llianne Dalzielle, Ruth Dyson – plus Phil Goff has been there regularly meeting with local people):

    When Anderton made his announcement yesterday, that he would resign as an MP if he won the mayoralty,
    some people made outraged comments about “how dare he be political” during the earthquake crisis. OTOH, it seems to me, Bob Parker has been milking his media attention during the quake crisis, as an indirect way of boosting his (previously failing) mayor candidate profile.

    And I think Key and his team have also calculated that being seen front and centre of the quake response, will win/maintain their local support. This has been seen indirectly in the way they have shifted from their initial positions, to provide more support for “ordinary” Cantabrian workers, rather than just focus on the implications for business – a response to criticisms and focus groups? While still being less supportive of people who took the rsik on being uninsured, compared with their overly hasty financial support of risk-taking investors in the South Canterbury Finance Company.

    And what to make of this item and Brownlee’s response?

    Just over a week after the Canterbury quake, political solidarity is starting to crack.
    Last night, Labour leader Phil Goff said his party was still “committed to a bipartisan approach” to the region’s recovery.
    However, Labour’s Christchurch East MP, Lianne Dalziel, told The Press earlier she had “had a gutsful” of being “patronised” by people involved in the disaster response.
    “The number of times that we’ve had to ring and get people to come back and do stuff that they say they will do – I’m just exhausted,” Dalziel said.
    “I couldn’t seem to get anyone to recognise that there is good local knowledge and that constituency MPs are quite a good resource.”
    Dalziel said she had met “very angry, tired people” wanting answers to their questions.
    Wigram MP and Christchurch mayoral candidate Jim Anderton said local politicians had not been kept in the loop.
    “They haven’t been involved in a way that I think they could have been and would have been if I’d have been mayor,” he said.
    The minister responsible for earthquake recovery, Gerry Brownlee, said he was “flabbergasted” by Dalziel’s comments.
    “I know people are upset. I can understand that fully … but rushed decisions, stuff that’s done without the proper information, will end up with disastrous consequences.”

  2. It is not an easy win because the facts do not support the theory.
    Add in the outright false statements, doctored temp and CO2 records and suppression and/or ignorance of any fact or study that does not suit the consensus of the small clique of “scientists” at the heart of AGW alarmism and it’s easy to see why alarmists are losing.

    The IPCC are now widely seen as a bunch of liars and troughers and that should not be surprising.

  3. I don’t intend for this thread to be another front in the interminable debate of the merits of the AGW thesis. But even supposing your statement is true, Jon, my fundamental point holds: given that the NRA succeeds despite all the empirical avidence arrayed against their policy claims: AGW-theory proponents can, too.


  4. It didn’t take long for the deniers to pop up, did it?

    While a lot of the advice in the Darroch article is not particularly relevant to New Zealand politics, as we don’t have extended election periods as in the US, I did take note of this:

    Supporters of climate-change legislation need to do a better job of defining what’s at stake in the near term, including extreme temperatures, drought, flooding, and rising food prices.

    The problem here is that it these consequences are well defined and well publicised but in a low key, factual kind of way because scientists tend to be low key, factual kind of people.

    Compare with the mad dogs of the gun lobby, no matter which country, who simply ignore all the evidence that says they are wrong, and continue to promulgate what George Kennan accurately described as “noise and filth”.

    And it’s not a simple connection to draw because one can’t point to any particular event/s as being the result of climate change – the difference between weather and climate mitigates against that approach.

    New Zealand is widely understood to be liable for only relatively minor deleterious effects, but this analysis fails to take into account that if the large parts of the world are going to hell in a handcart, can we seriously expect to escape unscathed? Our green pastures will become very desirable territory, and not just to boat hitchhikers!

    What’s missing, in my opinion, is national leadership by our major political parties. We all know John Key’s previous take on climate change and that farmers have a national president who is the worst kind of denier, so not much hope there. Goff doesn’t seem too interested in the issue, and I suspect that the short life of our governments is a major impediment to our politicians grasping this particular nettle.

    Maybe I should just raise funds to employ, say, John Ansell (and yes, I’m aware of his personal views on the issue, but he is a gun for hire, so to speak) to design that one billboard that, as he says can happen, redefines the narrative overnight.

    Another idea is to target the young, remembering that they vote at 18, and stand to suffer the consequences of our inaction far more than us.

    New Zealand taking a lead on this issue, not so much in terms of punitive legislation, which I am opposed to if undertaken in isolation, but in terms of worldwide advocacy for a unified approach, would surely enhance our 100%Pure brand.

    It’s a good topic Lew, and I would be keen to see other viewpoints on how to achieve an NRA-type game-changing campaign.

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