Essay: Calling All Gamers – The ‘Perfect’ Policy/Communications Challenge?

Somebody oughta invent the perfect storm of a public policy dilemma, confounding it with a really dastardly public education/communications challenge.

No, really. They should.

It would have to involve an issue or, better yet, a wide-ranging set of issues, really important to lots of people and things. Like, for instance, the survival of the species and its habitat.

The issue would have to be one internally ridden with mind-bending whodunits, with no single or clear-cut villain. Ideally, it would be an issue that would impose costs, restraints and perhaps some other “inconvenient” conditions on one generation … with the bulk of the manifested benefits accruing only to some future generation!

Can you imagine? The issue would be so all-encompassing that resolving it would require sacrifices on the part of virtually everyone and everything. To add to it all, some of the certain benefits derived from making those “sacrifices” would be almost indiscernible to all but the most perceptive and attentive. The benefits, let’s say, could even come across solely as costs!

Ideally, the challenges would provoke moral and religious concerns … from all sides no less.

What fun! But it could also get better. Or is it worse?

Let’s say, for instance, that in confronting this new Rubik’s Cube of a public policy challenge, even the fundamental agreement on what to call it was subject to debate, even among those most committed to confronting the whole thing. What soundbite, what universal “handle,” to apply to it all in the first place?

We could call it Bob, or we could call it Jill, but let’s go years, decades even, without finally agreeing. For instance, we could call it “global warming,” although some will dither that the impacts go beyond just a warmer world. Or we could call it “climate change,” a term certain to be found insufficiently sexy and headliney to truly energize folks. All of which, needless to say, would play into the hands of those preferring status quo in the first place.

And what about those who do deny the issue altogether, or at least deny the seriousness of it and how it’s come to be? Let’s have our “good guys” in this drama uncomfortable also with just what we call these obfuscators. They’ve absconded with “skeptics,” but, lo, the scientists themselves leading the charge on the issue and the journalists reporting to the public also lay claim to that term, and tightly. “Deniers?” “Denialists?”                     “Contrarians?” Oh my, what will it be, each carrying some baggage on its own?

If you wanted to, you could do more with this “penultimate issue challenge” game. You could introduce temporal issues, so that people don’t readily recognize timing factors that actually delineate something like, for instance, climate and weather. You could have the impacts of the issue be nonlinear – things wouldn’t steadily and progressively get worse, but rather would be quite cyclical, at times even appearing, albeit only temporarily, to ameliorate the whole worrisome condition in the first place. Only not really.

You could have a potential villain in the guise of the most visible and most recognizable object in the skies for all of us, helping contrive the notion, ha-ha, that it is after all the Sun, and not I, that bears responsibility.

There’s more you could do if you were really dead-set on concocting this most daunting of public policy challenges. You could have it truly be a “generational issue” … but one needing understanding and backbone from short-term elected public servants. And you could inflict it on people at perhaps the very most challenging of times – say in the midst of an historic global economic recession or depression, and at a time when the financially staggering news media are way too wilting to carry their full responsibilities in a democratic society. And you could also have some of those on the same side of the aisle as you – whichever side that is! – commit some impolitic indiscretions, some wording malapropisms, for instance, that would prompt the “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” refrain.

Oh what fun. If only it would happen. If only someone could devise such a bone-chillingly stultifying public policy dilemma!

Our greatest minds and greatest entrepreneurial instincts could be all over it in an instant. Our leaders would lead in ways fully befitting their titles. A well informed and grateful populace would rally to the cause, fully informed in large part because of the excellence of “The Fourth Estate.”

What a wonderful world it would be.

On the other hand.

Why bother in the first place?

Let’s just stick with climate change. At least until someone comes up with a better mission [im]possible.

That could happen. It just might take a while. Which, in the case of the real game we’re involved in, might just be something we don’t have all that much of to spare in the first place. In which case, we can just play to win in the challenge we’ve been gaming for some time now.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of The Yale Forum (E-mail: bud@yaleclimatemediaforum.org).
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