Is Richard Cizik America's Top Climate Communicator?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Over at George Mason's Center for Climate Change Communication, they are hosting a poll asking readers to vote for the 2008 Climate Change Communicator of the Year. Among the choices are such notables as Thomas Friedman, Bill McKibbon, John Warner, and Chevron's "Will You Join Us" Campaign.
But my vote would be for a name not on that list: the Reverend Richard Cizik, VP for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik is a perfect spokesperson for a hard to mobilize segment of Republican-leaning America. Not only does he have credibility among Evangelicals, but he actively understands how to frame the complexity of climate change in a way that is personally meaningful.
Consider the following excerpts from Cizik's recent interview on NPR's Fresh Air with host Terry Gross:
GROSS: I imagine you didn't agree with Sarah Palin on environmental issues. For example, her emphasis on drill, baby, drill, and also the fact that she said she wasn't sure if human behavior contributed to climate change. Now, climate change and the environment are issues you're trying to put much more toward the top of the evangelical agenda.
REV. CIZIK: Yeah, I couldn't - you're right. I couldn't have disagreed with her more. Just a year ago, we found out from climate scientists that the melt in the Arctic had turned into a rout. It was happening so fast it was as if your hair turned gray overnight. Now, I have a receding hairline, but I don't have my hair turning gray overnight. Well, that's what happened with the environment. An area the size of Colorado was disappearing every week, and the Northwest Passage was staying wide open all September for the first time in history. And so, to look at this and not see what's hap-pening, I think is, well, it was sort of the ignorance is strength idea. Well, not. It's not strength. Look, strength is know-ing what's happening to the world around us, and moreover, as a Christian, we can't claim to love the Creator and abuse the world in which we live. To do so is like claiming to be a fan of Shakespeare and then burn his plays....
...I'm always looking for ways to reframe issues, give the biblical point of view a different slant, if you will, and look it - we have to. The whole world, literally, the planet, is changing around us. And if you don't change the way you think and adapt, especially to things like climate change, scientists like Bob Doppelt, he says, well, if you don't adapt and change your thinking, you may ultimately be a loser because climate change, in his mind, he is a systems analyst, has the capacity to determine the winners and losers, and your life will never be the same, growing up during, I say, the great warming. Our grandparents grew up during the Great Depression. Our parents, well, they lived in the aftermath of that and became probably, the most, well, the greediest generation and our generation, this younger one, needs to be the greenest....
GROSS: Let me just ask you a pointed question. Are you waiting for some of the evangelical leaders who have op-posed you on issues like your concern about the environment and climate change, are you waiting for them to retire and leave the stage? And I guess I'm thinking most specifically here about James Dobson.
REV. CIZIK: I'm not waiting. I would want Jim Dobson to join us because this is about creation care. It's what the Bible teaches. It's godly, it is right. So I'm not waiting for him to leave the scene at all. I want him to join us. In other words, I'm always looking, Terry, for allies, not adversaries. Always allies. This is important. It's strategically important for Christians to care for this earth, just as it's important for Christians to care for the family. These are equals. They're both part of God's concern, they're both part of his heart. And so no, I'm not waiting.
GROSS: I appreciate what you're saying, but at the same time I think the odds of you winning over James Dobson on this are probably slim. So do you think what's going to change in the long run...
(Soundbite of laughter)
REV. CIZIK: With God, all things are possible.
GROSS: ...is that he and some of the other people who oppose your work on putting environmental issues near the top of the agenda, do you think that what's going to change is that they will retire and there will be a new guard?
REV. CIZIK: Well, inevitably that occurs. Even some of the names on the letter that opposed me back just a few years ago are gone. But that doesn't change the fact that we all will pay a price for not changing. The Earth is reaping the consequences of our actions when we don't reexamine our habits of consumption, right? The poor around the world, well, they're reaping the consequences of our failing to meet our obligations. This is not something that can wait for any of us to retire. Some may be wanting me to, but the Gospel paints a vision of society that is relationally and environ-mentally sustainable. What do I mean by that, relationally sustainable? It's a message of hope that we all get along, not just get along, but work together for a cause which is bigger than ourselves.