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.

Essay

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

=

X
___________________

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.

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