What If It Hadn't Been Al Gore?

Most of my friends, and many of my colleagues, would identify themselves as liberal or liberal-minded. As a result, it wouldn't be unusual for them to discount (or reject) the views of a noted conservative—say Dick Cheney or Sean Hannity—almost out of hand. 

It was even hard for many to admit that George W. Bush's oil paintings were "decent," as The New York Times wrote. (But not without adding "unsetlling.") Would they say the same about Maira Kalman's brilliantly quirky portraits?

This Pavlovian response happens on both sides of the aisle, of course. Attribute any quote* to Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken or Hillary Clinton and most conservatives will come out swinging, regardless of the statement.

And that brings me to the headline of this blog: What if Al Gore hadn't been the evangelist for our planet's "Inconvenient Truth"? Would climate change still have become such a polarizing and political issue? Would we be doing more to correct it? 

The former Democratic Vice President deserves praise for bringing the global challenge to the forefront, but I would argue that he's also the unfortunate reason that we became—and remain—so dangerously divided on the issue. 

When it comes to persuasion, the message bearer is as important as the message—perhaps even more important in an increasingly opinion-by-proxy world. ("I believe it, because people whom I know and like said it.") 

It's time for for environmental advocates to recruit new message-bearers with a new message that transcends politics. For starters, let's stop calling the people we're trying to persuade "stupid." 

* Idea for a research study: Assemble a mix of statements about different issues and attribute the the quotes to different liberal or conservative leaders. Would research participants judge the statements more or less favorably depending on their political affiliation and the person to whom the quote is attributed. 

MONEY AS THE MESSAGE BEARER (5/8/14, CNBC): "Climate change is having a direct impact on the business community and the bottom line. That is an important point—it not an environmental subject, it is an economic subject," Trevor Maynard, head of exposure management at Lloyd's of London, told CNBC this week.