Latest from the Blog
- To sum up… December 3, 2013
- The Open Letter will run in the LA Times this Sunday, November 10th! November 4, 2013
- La Lettre Ouverte October 21, 2013
We are just two regular people who care about climate change. While we both try to live environmentally conscious lives, we also know that our personal actions – things like riding a bike, recycling, using CFLs instead of incandescent lightbulbs, etc. – have very limited influence on a problem this immense. The Open Letter is our attempt to have a greater impact by influencing the people who could have a dramatic effect.
Jordyn is a freelance user experience consultant. She also makes music and cool collages using images she cuts out of magazines.
Mike is a user experience analyst at Velir. He also plays in a rock band and makes cool sculptures out of legos and sometimes wood.
Because we owe it to subsequent generations to do all we can to avoid dangerous climate change.
Why us? If not us, who?
Why this? Because I knew the small things I was doing in my life were a drop in the bucket, but I also knew that the usual democratic processes are far too slow to address something as immediate and overwhelming as climate change. Realistically, the only people with the ability to turn the tide quickly are people I don’t have access to. My last-ditch idea was to write them a letter, outlining in the plainest possible language why this is a moral issue that demands immediate action. My plan was to post it to my blog and cross my fingers, but fortunately Mike had a better idea.
[Mike adds: I hope this turns out to be a better idea!]
When I first sat down to write the letter, it was important to me that it be addressed to specific individuals. It’s easy to mentally exclude yourself from a group if that group’s responsibilities appear to be a burden.
So while “parents with power” would have theoretically cast a wider net, it would also have given individuals ample opportunity to self-select. The parents with the most power need the spotlight on them constantly, with no possibility of exemption.
As for who the most powerful parents are, that’s merely a question of who pulls the levers of power in human society. Power comes in many forms – political, financial, social, etc. As much as I believe in the ideal of democracy and like to think we are each capable of influencing the outcome of human events to an equal degree, it’s pretty clear that isn’t how things actually work. Put more Orwellianly, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
If humanity had a century to address climate change, we would have time to pursue the slow-and-steady methods for change that our society prefers. We would be able to convince one person at a time to use less electricity and ride a bike more often. We would be able to slowly stack our governments with people who favor action.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time. We need the “more equal” people to step up to the plate immediately.
Once Mike and I figured out what categories of people to address, the next question was who the top ten people in each category should be.
Update 8/12/13: It should be noted that in instances where it was impossible to verify that an individual has children, we simply removed them and selected the next most qualified potential addressee who we could confirm is a parent.
We decided to go with absolute – rather than per-capita or “carbon intensity” – numbers because the problem is absolute. The Earth’s ecosystem doesn’t discriminate between who’s putting more carbon into the atmosphere on a per capita basis, or as a function of overall output. Carbon is carbon.
Yes, this is unfair. In fact, it is deeply unfair. But if we, as a species, hope to be around long enough to rectify that injustice, we have to work together to solve this problem. If your train is heading off a cliff, you don’t waste time trying to figure out who on the train is most responsible for the impending catastrophe. You save that for later, when everyone is safe.
As for citing a list of countries from 2005: At the time that we were finalizing the draft to get it approved as an ad, this was the latest and most definitive source on the matter. The only true casualty of that may be Brazil, who has made great strides in addressing climate change in the last 8 years.
Update 8/13/2013: Having now written Dilma Rousseff’s Addressee Profile, the strides I refered to above seem like they’re actually headed in the wrong direction.
We started off targeting the top ten companies by revenue, but once we saw that 9 out of 10 of those were oil companies, we thought we’d just go for the jugular.
Update 8/12/13: This was true when we created the ad, but is not the case now. Also, we excluded state-owned companies since we are addressing heads-of-state elsewhere.
The two most frequent criticisms of this approach are the following.
The oil companies only control supply; in order to address climate change, we have to reduce demand for fossil fuels. In reality, because of the political and social power that has resulted from their immense wealth, oil and gas companies control both supply and demand. They can influence what sorts of infrastructure developments get considered by governments. They can influence the “debate” about the scientific evidence for man-made climate change (in fact creating and perpetuating the debate to begin with). They can influence where wind farms get to be built. And so on.
The letter is unlikely to persuade oil execs to abandon fossil fuels. That may be true, but given what we just outlined in #1, oil and gas companies need to be confronted in the same ways that tobacco companies once were. They need to be vilified for profiting from something that is destroying our only known habitat, just as tobacco execs were vilified for profiting from sickness and death. If left unaddressed, climate change is going to sicken and kill far more people than tobacco ever did.
These are the people with the megaphones. We considered targeting the people who own the media companies – e.g. Rupert Murdoch – however on a practical, day-to-day level, it is the editors-in-chief who are setting the tone for their outlets.
The tougher call was how to rank the outlets. Data on audience sizes was surprisingly scarce. What information we did manage to find, we then had to compare across different media – radio, television, print, web. We did our best.
Further, despite the US-centric results, we did approach this from a global perspective – see #1 on the list. It turns out, people around the world pay attention to our news.
These are the investors. If this group were to divest fully from fossil fuels, the world would notice. If this group were to devote all of their resources to pursuing renewables, the world would change.
As for the exact names, they’re very easy to find: Forbes List of the World’s Billionaires.
While you’re there, compare our choices of addressees to the Forbes List of the World’s Most Powerful People.
We hope the letter will raise the profile of the issue of climate change.
The more public pressure political leaders feel, the more likely they will be to take action via legislation (see the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s for some precedent).
The more public pressure energy execs feel, the more likely they will be to stop denying climate change and start investing in renewables (see the tobacco industry for some precedent).
The more public pressure media leaders feel, the more likely they will be to cover climate change and to relate it to everything else they’re covering (see the Vietnam War for some precedent).
The more public pressure wealthy people feel, the more likely they will be to divest from fossil fuels (see apartheid for some precedent).
The purpose of this campaign is to raise enough money to get the Open Letter published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. The cost for that ad is $149,222.050. We’ve set our goal at $161,000, which is just enough to pay for the ad and all campaign-related administrative fees (Indiegogo and PayPal).
The Wall Street Journal is a globally-read business newspaper that will be extremely familiar to the addressees of the letter – it is likely already arriving on their doorsteps every day. The Journal is very pro-business and has repeatedly taken an editorial stance in opposition to aggressive climate change action – sometimes merely expressing concern about the anticipated economic impact of climate action, other times, vehemently opposing the global scientific consensus about climate change (and being reprimanded for doing so by multiple organizations). One particularly egregious editorial even suggested that increased carbon in the atmosphere might actually be a good thing; it was written by a man whose family leases land to coal mining companies.
We believe the Open Letter will have a larger impact if it is published in a newspaper like the Journal, not typically known for a strong climate change advocacy perspective, than it would coming from a left-leaning paper whose usual audience already acknowledges and agrees with the letter’s message.
They are, but they also present a few issues:
That being said, publishing this letter as an op-ed remains an option, and depending on how things go with this fundraising campaign, we may eventually explore that path as well.
This is a flexible funding campaign, which means that if we don’t make our goal, we will still get however much we do raise, minus platform fees. The fees are higher if we miss our goal – one of many reasons you should help us reach it!
Depending on how much money we succeed in raising, we will still be able to buy ad space and publish the Open Letter in one or more of the other publications we received approval from (in descending order of cost):
This is, of course, only a subset of the magazines and newspapers currently being published. We’ve written elsewhere about why we have targeted The Wall Street Journal. Beyond that, we used our discretion complicated algorithm to identify which outlets we think will make the Open Letter most effective.
If we don’t raise enough even to buy the lowest-priced ad, we will donate all raised funds directly to a climate change education organization. We’ll also be very disappointed, but we still will have done something.
As you can see, many of the papers that provided advertising approval have lower ad rates than The Wall Street Journal. If our campaign goes really well and we make more than $161,000, we’ll publish the Open Letter in one or more of these other papers in addition to publishing it in The Wall Street Journal.
If we surpass the goal by only a little bit (i.e., not by enough to purchase two ads), we will donate the surplus money to a climate change education organization.
There are two main reasons we decided to go it alone for now:
Our lack of affiliation with an established organization has drawbacks:
As far as getting the addressees to read the letter, we think publishing it in the WSJ, with the names of thousands of supporters attached, stands a better chance of actually getting in front of them than writing their corporate headquarters would.
In addition to being an invitation for people with power to change their minds, the letter is an invitation for everyone else to put as much public pressure on them possible.
Regarding the “They’re not gonna listen to you” feedback some people have brought up, we simply ask you to consider history. Slave owners were not ready to listen to abolitionists. Misogynists were not ready to listen to suffragettes. In every struggle for justice or social change, those in power start from a place of disinterest, dismissal, or even outright aggression towards those who are trying to foment change. The global elite in a world powered by fossil fuel are not ready to listen to people who proclaim the danger and risk of an unsustainable way of life. But the more people who join this campaign, the harder it is for them to ignore.
What do you mean? We’ll relax, knowing we have at last conquered climate change! 😉
But really: We know one campaign won’t solve the climate crisis. Once we have sufficiently celebrated this minor victory, our intention is to keep applying pressure to global VIPs via similar projects.