Upping Team Urgency's Game

Slide953


The last 30 years of climate change policy advocacy in the U.S. can be likened to a modern-day Charge of the Light Brigade, a failed but glorious frontal assault on a heavily defended position. Efforts to pass national climate policy have been turned back repeatedly by the powerful political, economic, and psychological forces defending that position. In effect, Team Urgency has repeatedly reenacted the famous Charge of the Light Brigade against the heavily defended positions of Team No-Urgency.


The perceived urgency of climate change today is greater than it ever has been. The temptation to focus on silver bullet pieces of climate legislation, or silver bullet technologies, or silver bullet changes to current political and economic systems, is perhaps greater than it ever has been. The temptation to mount one more Charge of the Light Brigade may be greater than it ever has been; after all, this time it might work! 

But it hasn’t worked yet, and most observers recognize that silver bullet solutions are very low probability plays. It is common to hear reference to "silver buckshot” as an alternative, but there is generally no discussion of the strategies and tactics needed for silver buckshot to substantially mitigate climate change. That’s what Climate Chess is all about.

What would playing better Climate Chess actually look like?

A Team Urgency Nerve Center

While a Team Urgency Nerve Center would not have to be large, it would require the personnel and resources to accomplish or coordinate several key tasks.

  • Building a big picture view of the Climate Chessboard, identifying and prioritizing on an ongoing basis the best opportunities for Team Urgency to make progress on the Board.

  • Responding quickly to support Team Urgency players and pieces when they have the opportunity to advance on the Board, without having to engage in long philanthropic funding cycles.

  • Substantially expanding the size of Team Urgency by giving tens of millions of concerned individuals confidence in their ability to influence climate change outcomes, and then supporting them in that effort.

  • Looking for opportunities to undermine the power and moves of Team No-Urgency.

Team Urgency Tactics

Team Urgency needs to look beyond “big wins” in tackling climate change. Let’s take a look at a few Team Urgency Chess Pieces relating to carbon pricing.

  • A coordinated and sufficiently high global carbon price
  • A high U.S. national carbon price
  • A high state or local carbon price
  • A state or local carbon price that starts low, but with an escalator
  • A demonstration value (low) carbon price at the state or local level

There are just some of the potential carbon pricing Chess Pieces. Obviously a coordinated and sufficiently high global carbon price is the most powerful of the listed Pieces. A demonstration value carbon price, imposed in a single state or locality, is much less powerful as a Chess Piece. But what if there is no opportunity right now to advance the former, but there is an opportunity to implement demonstration carbon prices in several U.S. states. Could those demonstration projects set the stage for higher carbon pricing later at the state, national, or global levels? If so, making sure those demonstration projects get implemented as quickly as possible could be a Team Urgency priority.

Identifying the Chess Pieces considered important enough to Team Urgency to be assessed and tracked, and then figuring out where and when the conditions are right to try and push a specific Chess Piece forward on the Chessboard is no small task. And the challenge goes up exponentially with the number of Chess Pieces. And of course the "opportunity environment" has to be re-assessed on a regular basis to identify new opportunities for Chess Piece moves, and perhaps the ending of an "opportunity window" for a move previously identified.

Weakening Team No-Urgency

In playing Climate Chess, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on Team Urgency's Pieces and Moves on the Chessboard. Any weakening of Team No-Urgency'sPieces, and any reduction in Team No-Urgency's flexibility to move those Pieces around the Chessboard, works to the advantage of Team Urgency.

Several examples of how to do this include:

  • Encouraging defections from Team No-Urgency by deploying a better climate narrative or engaging in more effective climate communications. many Team No-Urgency players are not inherently against action on climate change, they simply haven’t been given good reasons to buy into the messaging of Team Urgency.

  • Risk communicator Peter Sandman has emphasized that "reducing opposition" to action on climate change can be just as powerful as increasing the ranks of those committed to positive action. If Team No-Urgency players could be convinced to play Climate Chess less aggressively, that would help Team Urgency on the Chessboard.

  • Changing social norms of acceptability is another approach that may weaken Team No-Urgency. Airlines are being forced to respond to the #FlightShaming movement, for example, in ways that may weaken their commitment to Team No-Urgency.

Activating More Team Urgency Players

More than 100 million individuals in the United States alone consider themselves alarmed, concerned, or cautious when it comes to climate change. If they were effectively engaged on behalf of mitigating climate change, it would have a transformative impact on climate change outcomes. But they’re not.

Those 100 million individuals ask themselves the same two questions we all ask before making any decision:

  • Is getting involved worth it to me?

  • Can I make a relevant difference?

Unless an individual can answer YES to BOTH questions, she won’t fully engage on climate change.

When it comes to the first question, some fraction of the population self-identifying as alarmed or concerned about climate change clearly has answered YES - climate change IS worth their engagement. But many haven’t, despite the availability of almost infinite information on a very wide range of climate change impacts and risks.

When it comes to the second question, relatively few individuals believe they can influence climate change outcomes, or have any real idea of how to go about it. When you ask people what they are doing about climate change, many respond “I recycle.” Unfortunately, recycling has little to do with climate change.

The bottom line is that a majority of those alarmed or concerned about climate change are not fully engaged because they have no idea how to make a difference.

Simply increasing the information flow to these individuals, deluging them with more information about climate change and climate solutions, is not the answer.

It should be possible for individuals concerned about climate change to sign up on a website, provide relevant information about themselves, and then receive ongoing updates on the best opportunities for making a difference on climate change. Those opportunities would reflect a person's resources, occupation, skill sets, geography, and more. And the Team Urgency Nerve Center should be able to provide them with that information, pointing individuals to where they can be most useful to moving Chess Pieces forward on the Chessboard based on where they are and what they can provide to the effort.