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
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.