Is There a Single ‘Face’ for Climate Change?

Does a public policy issue of the scope and importance of climate change need a single human face for it to be effectively communicated to a diverse global public? Whose face is it now? And in the future?

Show me, will you please, the important public policy issue, domestic or foreign, that wouldn’t just love to have as its public face that of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, one-time Vice President of the United States, and producer of one of the most widely seen full-length documentary films in history.

They’d have to be crazy.


So is it still Al Gore, notwithstanding the inevitable baggage that any career politician is seen as bringing to the table? Notwithstanding that he appears in so many ways to be as revered in much of the world for his dedication to the climate issue as he is reviled by some in the U.S. for those same efforts?

There’s certainly no denying the extraordinary global visibility and prominence brought to the issue of climate change/global warming by Al Gore. It’s hard to imagine who could have done more to highlight the issue. No one has even come close.

And, perhaps the toughest question of all: If not Al Gore … then who? Those serious about the climate issue need to do more than merely find fault with Gore as their most visible leader. They should also have to flag their alternative? So, who is it?

Let’s try a simple math equation, looking not so much to the past or even the present, but rather to the future:

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil Rights Movement



Climate Change

What’s your answer? Have you got one? Think back: You could change the equation to Ralph Nader is to auto safety in the 60s as “X” is to Climate Change in the second decade of this century. Or try even Michael Jordan is to professional basketball as “X” is to Climate Change, or Bill Gates is to Microsoft as “X” is to Climate Change.

Your answers, please?

There aren’t any. Or perhaps there are many. But is there one who stands out above all others? Who speaks across numerous interests and disciplines?

Those old enough to remember the 1970s “Environmental Decade,” as then President Richard M. Nixon called it, will remember that the “Mr. Environment” was a Maine Democratic Senator, Edmund S. Muskie. Who in today’s U.S. Congress is the standard bearer as “Mr./Ms. Climate Change”? Name one, just one.

Chances are good that any assemblage of knowledgeable climate change policy geeks would vary widely on the names they would put forward.

Throw into this mixture that there indeed is a single face in Congress for the viewpoint favored by those largely rejecting the scientific evidence and overall severity of the climate change issue: There’s probably widespread agreement that Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe’s is that face.

So what?, you might ask. Does an issue like climate change really need, truly need, a single face on it? And need it in fact be a human face, or will a threatened polar bear suffice? The social science literature on those questions appears to be pretty scant. Perhaps a multitude of faces is more appropriate, given the enormous breadth of the climate change issue across the whole of society. So in this case, there’d be a “face” representing leadership in the scientific sector, one for the government sector, others for the business, academic and educational, activist, perhaps even media, sectors.

Not one face, but many. Perhaps that’s even more suitable and suiting given the seemingly highly fractionated nature of modern society and of much public policy discourse these days.

But is it really? What do you think? Is there a single “face” on the climate issue? Is there a need for one? Is it still Al Gore? And, if not … then who?

Maryland freelance writer Lisa L. Palmer explores this “face of climate change” issue in an accompanying post. We welcome your ideas too.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail:
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5 Responses to Is There a Single ‘Face’ for Climate Change?

  1. Great question. I certainly want to see a face there – strong and heroic, eyes rising to the future, gentle sunlight caressing wind-blown hair. It may be a new face. Even a fictional one.

    You mention Al Gore. Whoever aspires to that position, will first act as lightning-rod and target of manufactured contempt. Maybe Gore can handle it better than most, but it is clear that anyone doing innovative work can expect professional invective followed by the ideologues wielding pitchforks and torches.

    A few years ago, I noticed the blatantly promoted attacks and harsh language coming from denier blogs that called out a few interesting scientists, researchers and speakers. This is really how I discovered Dr James Hansen – his science was supressed – why? And why would anyone be upset by the work of Naomi Oreskes ? And just what is inside the database records maintained by DeSmogBlog that makes people so upset? And later, with Mann and Joe Romm, it was by the external clamoring that lent importance to their message.

    Almost as if to avoid calling attention to important voices and faces, Now the criticism is more strategic and more highly targeted – to Mann. But to show how tightly the issue is controlled, even Congress is afraid of actually following through with serious investigations when Inhofe calls it a hoax. As if they are afraid of settling the issue with the truth. How tragic.

    Note how the media and government and culture seems to have been manipulated to ignore, then deny, deride and redefine the face of the climate problem.

    It may be unfair to look for a positive, hopeful face to represent our climate situation. Instead, the true face may be unpleasant to see. It may be a mirror reflecting a dark and easily-manipulated unconscious human psychology that craves a blissful sleep. We deny the science, or we deny that we belong to such an imperfect species. Maybe we are venal beings stuck in addiction to carbon energy, and refusing to protect our children’s future.

    Not fun to look at. But ruthless truth is the first step.

  2. RickA says:

    When I think of the “face” of global warming, I think of James Hansen.

  3. The “face” of climate policy and all other federal policies should be the Constitution of the United States of America. This remarkable document sets clear limits on the powers of the Federal Government and permits exercise of those powers only in specifically enumerated activities that relate to providing for the “common defence”, promoting the “general Welfare”, and securing “the Blessings of Liberty” to all Americans and future Americans. The first ten Amendments to the Constitution, and the 14th Amendment, further limit the powers of Federal and State Governments relative to the rights of the people, leave to the people those natural rights not specifically protected, and reserve all un-enumerated powers to the States. Other Amendments expand the powers of the Federal Government but, again, only within specified limits.

    All in all, the overt and covert climate and energy initiatives of the Federal Government pose a clear and present danger to the economic future and national security of the United States. These initiatives stand in clear violation of the intent of the Founders and the constraints on the imposition of tyranny that they provided in the Constitution.

  4. RC says:

    There is only one face for global warming, and Bud Ward of all people knows who that is. While there have been many repeaters and promoters of the issue – Gore, Hansen, Romm, Sharon Begley, John Passacantando, Phil Radford, and scores of book authors like Oreskes, Pilkey, Hoggan & Littlemore, just to name a few – they all ultimately trace their information to Ross Gelbspan, and especially to his narratives about skeptic scientists. Everybody knows this, many acknowledge it. Without him, there is no public awareness of the issue because the skeptics would have won the day nearly two decades ago.

    While he singularly serves as the face of this astounding overall public awareness achievement, ummm… Houston, we have a problem. This same feat keeping the issue out front is the same one that could very well drive a stake through the heart of the entire issue.

    Everyone accepted Gelbspan’s accusation of skeptics being on the payroll of ‘big coal & oil’, but no one ever actually independently corroborated it. Uncountable numbers of people quote that infamous “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” 1991 coal industry memo sentence, but not one person using the quote to indict skeptic scientists has the guts to show the actual memo and its related pages in their complete context, or tell the story of how that memo set was leaked to the media and whose hands it passed through before it landed in Gelbspan’s hands. Many, including Al Gore, credit Gelbspan with discovering the memos, but seem oblivious to book authors and reporters mentioning them prior to Gelbspan. Many repeat Gelbspan’s narrative about words coming from a 1991 coal industry annual report on its declaration to launch “a direct attack on mainstream science and enlist several scientists who are skeptical about climate change”, yet nobody verified if those words are actually in that report. People love to recite the talking point about ‘too fair media balance’ offered to skeptic scientists, but they can’t explain major contradictions like the PBS NewsHour, which hasn’t had a single skeptic scientist on its program in 17+ years to offer detailed rebuttals to their frequent IPCC scientist guests. Many called Gelbspan an outright Pulitzer winner for years, but nobody checked with the Pulitzer organization to confirm it. All accepted his insinuation that fossil fuel funding must yield false misleading climate assessments, but literally nobody first disproved that such funding, paltry as Peter Gleick has lately revealed, was given because the funders simply agreed with what the skeptics said.

    Gelbspan is the face of global warming, in the rise and peak of the issue, and very likely in its impending total collapse. You see, if the corruption accusation never had any validity and is instead revealed to be a long-term means to marginalize critics of the IPCC, there will be no excuse for the public to ignore the assessments of skeptic scientists. And the public will be outraged with the mainstream media about why all the faults in the idea that ‘skeptic climate scientists operate in a parallel to old tobacco industry tactics’ were not reported.

  5. RC says:

    Only two online comments so far. And how many have you not allowed to appear so far?

    Perhaps another worthy ‘face’ of global warming would be a comparison of the times when promoters of AGW have resorted to erasing material that was detrimental to their cause, opposed to the number of times when skeptics have done the same thing. Or a comparison of the number of times when promoters of AGW resorting to ‘planting’ leaked memos in the media to foment public outrage, opposed to the number of times when skeptics have done the same.

    This particular ‘face’ certainly appears to be one having no confidence in the ability to support the underlying science of AGW, is it not?