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Jim Hoggan is one of Canada’s most respected public-relations professionals and the president and owner of the Vancouver PR firm Hoggan & Associates.
A law school graduate with a longstanding passion for social justice, Jim also serves as chair of the David Suzuki Foundation—the nation’s most influential environmental organization—and as a Trustee of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.
Jim is the co-founder of Stonehouse Standing Circle, an innovative public-engagement and communications think-tank, and the former chair of The Climate Project Canada—Al Gore’s global education and advocacy organization. He also led the Province of British Columbia’s Green Energy Advisory Task Force on Community Relations and First Nations Partnerships.
Jim is the co-founder of the influential website DeSmogBlog and the author of two books, Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for Skeptical Public, and Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. He speaks, writes, and presents widely on public attitudes toward sustainability, climate change, and the environment.
An e-mail correspondent sent these questions (with answers appended).What was your motivation?
Annoyance. I have often stood up to criticize sleazy and misleading PR campaigns in the past. I find it irksome to see people getting away with spreading disinformation and refusing to take responsibility, and I think it reflects badly on my industry. That said; this is a bigger issue than any I have tackled previously, and a more public forum.
“One of my favourite questions when teaching PR ethics is to try and establish whether or not an ethical PR practitioner can represent the Flat Earth Society (I would argue that there is no easy answer to this question)? Jim Hoggan tackles a rather more serious version of the debate in this interesting post, Clearing the air on climate change (thanks, Trevor).
Say what you will about the United Nations, no one in the world produces acronyms with the same dedication and enthusiasm. At the conference in Montreal, everyone refers to the COP, the MOP, the UNFCCC – if you’re not in the club, there would be no hint that they were even talking about climate change.
So, here’s a very top-level look. The UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the underlying agreement negotiated in at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Parties to that agreement have reconvened regularly in Conferences of the Parties (COPs). The Kyoto accord was conceived in the third of these meetings, or COP 3. Now that Kyoto is in effect, but many parties (most abhorently the United States) are not signatories, the UN has decided to call this (COP 11) the Conference of the Parties serving as a meeting of the Parties, or COP/MOP. (You begin to understand why it takes everyone two weeks to disagree on issues of such obvious importance.)
Interface Inc. CEO Ray Anderson was the “inspirational speaker” at a Montreal business breakfast this morning (Dec. 6, 2005). organized by Claridge Investments Chair Stephen Bronfman and sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation. In a break from tradition at these events, Anderson was, well, inspirational.
One of the world’s most successful carpet merchants, Anderson told the story of an environmental epiphany that led him to try to reduce the environmental footprint of his operation to zero. He also explained how his company cut greenhouse gas emissions by 52 per cent in the 10 years between 1994 and 2004 and made more money.
There’s always a problem in PR trying to reconcile what your client says with what people choose to hear. People’s attitudes are informed by their biases; their ability to listen is affected by their preconceptions.
So, let’s use this to our advantage. Have a look at this World News Australia link describing the oceanic inundation of the island nation of Vanuatu. Then, the next time a politician or business leader says “it’s too expensive to make even the slightest effort to forestall climate change,” you can hear, “and who cares about Vanuatu, anyway?”
This is less helpful. The idea that we must all wear hair shirts, drive sucky cars and live in cold, dark houses is … well, let’s say, unappealing. If this is the best PR pitch that we can conceive, global warming is here to stay.
There are two problems with this approach. First, there is a danger that people will make one or two personal sacrifices and then feel that they have done their part for the planet; that having accepted responsibility and taken some personal action, they will return to their apolitical lives with a clear conscience. The really big structural changes that only government can make will remain unmade for lack of public pressure.