The Media Gets Into the Act
Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)
Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger
During the Environmental Heydays of the Sixties and Seventies, media—including both print ads and television—began to be used as a primary tool in the promotion of the US Environmental Movement. Who can ever forget the poignant public service television spot showing a Native American brave canoeing down a river until he arrives at a trash-laden, pollution-spouting urban waterfront where—after he drags his canoe out of the water—a tossed bag of garbage explodes at his feet. The close-up zoom showing a single tear drop rolling down his cheek is heart-breaking and the piece became instantly famous nationwide. Never mind that—as it turned out—America’s favorite native son was purported to actually be 100% second-generation Italian. The point is that a thoughtful, tasteful media production gained both the wholesale attention and concerned responsiveness of our entire country.
Of course, throughout the Sixties, David Brower was still around harassing the Bureau of Reclamation and leading the opposition to federal dams as Executive Director of the Sierra Club. He once produced a print ad that became the high point of the Sierra Club’s existence and a rallying cry for an angry nation. The ad showed a dam being built in the Grand Canyon headed by the caption, “Would you flood the Sistine Chapel in order to get a better look at its ceiling?”
The Sistine Chapel—Photo Copyright: Conde Nast Traveler
Public reaction to this ad was enormous and instantaneous, fomenting total support against building dams anywhere in the Grand Canyon. The politicos in Washington were so incensed that they dispatched an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent to the local Sierra Club office with a letter stating that their non-profit status had been withdrawn. Of course, this played right into the Sierra Club’s hands. Brower told the tax collector to shove his notice up where the sun doesn’t shine and when the media got wind of what had happened, they had a field day.
As Tom Turner, Editor for Friends of the Earth and Earthjustice, put it, “People in the public may not have known what they thought about the Sierra Club; but they sure knew what they thought about the IRS. Sympathy for the Sierra Club just boiled over and people joined in droves.”
The resulting public reaction was so intense that the pressure changed the course of the government’s plans. Congress soon moved to expand Grand Canyon National Park and prohibit dams anywhere within its boundaries. In the final analysis, the Sierra Club had used a simple print ad to thrust itself into being both a media darling and the fresh face of the US Environmental Movement.
These types of strategic media use are certainly something to consider in determining how to gain across-the-board support for our Climate Change agenda. Everything depends on producing pieces that touch the right buttons—without turning people off— while getting the message across that a national reaction is needed.
As a narrator states in the film, A Fierce Green Fire, “Every now and then some issue arises that is elevated into the stratospheric focus of public attention, then becomes the symbolic rallying cry for a whole generation of activists.” In the 1960’s that issue was the proposed damming of the Grand Canyon; today the issue is solving the Climate Change crisis. The whole idea here is to make the best use of the media to create a symbolic, iconic national rallying cry. In many situations, a talented staff of exceptionally creative, yet thoughtful public relations personnel is worth its weight in gold.
Author’s bio:For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.