Oil fatigue and making ourselves care

Who really cares? That’s a vital question, maybe the question, in clean tech communications.

You can sit in a conference room all day hashing out your product positioning, but if you can’t get your audience to feel, you’ll never get them to act.

This truth concerns me from a life-or-death perspective as some of the most concrete, tangible, visible symptoms of our planet’s problems – the things that make us care – are fading away. We, the audience, care just a little less each day.

The BP well has stopped spewing, so the underground oil cam is boring. Tony Hayward has sailed away from the executive suite, taking his $18 million and our anger with him. The oil slick is … well, where the hell has it gone?

Climate change is at least as frustrating as oil fatigue because it’s an abstraction even as it suffocates the planet. Although it’s sweltering here in New England, global warming will seem pretty academic in December. And while the slow implosion of the ocean’s food chain isn’t as jarring as the pothole on your street, ocean warming is being blamed for a 40 percent decrease in the ocean’s algal biomass.

Plastiki gets the art of caring. The sailboat, made of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles, just arrived in Sydney after 128 days crossing the Pacific and spotlighting the blight of plastic trash in the ocean. It was an inspired communications gambit that has successfully given compelling physical form to an environmental concern we hardly see.

The vessel was years in the making. Sometimes it takes that kind of effort to make people care. Keep that in mind when you’re fighting the good fight for clean technology.

Sadly, bad news can be easier to care about. Although the plankton decline isn’t so scary, when Louisiana’s seafood restaurants become pasta joints, that will certainly get people’s attention.

Toyota + Tesla = hope for the electric car

Bedfellows don’t get much stranger than Toyota and Tesla, who’ve just partnered to create an all-electric RAV4.

If viable, the machine would help Toyota get over the hump of its gasoline dependence while putting a Tesla power train into vehicles that regular people can own. Tesla is the only automaker in the U.S. that builds and sells highway-capable EVs in meaningful volume, claiming over 1,000 Roadsters driving emissions-free in more than 25 countries.

You already know about Toyota’s prim gas/electric hybrid.

Tesla’s racy Roadster, with an MSRP of $109,000, is an all-electric sports car that can go 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and travel 244 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack.

Tesla plans to produce and deliver a fleet of all-electric RAV4 prototypes to Toyota for evaluation within the year.

Can the new RAV4 make people forget the runaway death Prius? Can it teach Toyota about harnessing reliable power from laptop batteries? Can  it bring the electric car concept (and price) down to earth?

Let’s hope.   This has been done before, sort of. Toyota made 1,500 electric RAV4s between 1997 and 2003. Actor Ed Begley Jr. still has one:


It’s official: Climategate undermined trust in scientists

If you can’t trust scientists about climate change, who can you trust?

Americans lost faith in scientists and grew more skeptical about the reality of global warming following Climategate, according to a compelling new report, “Climategate, Public Opinion and the Loss of Trust,” by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Climategate refers to the e-mail leak heard around the world in November 2009. Skeptics claimed it as smoking-gun evidence that climate scientists are exaggerating global warming, suppressing research they don’t like, and hiding information from the public.

The report, released on Monday, shows that Americans surveyed just after Climategate broke were significantly:

  • More doubtful that global warming is really happening,
  • Less likely to blame humans (as opposed to natural causes) for global warming,
  • Less trusting of scientists. (Scientists, however, remained much more trusted than weather reporters, President Obama, Al Gore, religious leaders or the mainstream media.)

An individualistic world view and a conservative ideology were the best predictors of a survey respondent’s loss of trust in climate scientists, the report said.   Other factors that may have contributed to the decline in belief, trust and worry around global warming include the moribund economy, the new administration and Congress, media coverage and abnormally cool weather.

Whatever your belief, the safe bet is planning for the worst and hoping for the best.