Confusion and delay | Seth’s Blog


Marketing is generally about action. Marketers seek to create the conditions for a change to happen, for people to accomplish their goals and to satisfy their needs.

But since 1950, some marketers have worked in a different direction. To sow confusion and doubt, and most of all, to seek delay.

In 1954, facing the real threat of peer-reviewed and clear evidence that smoking caused lung cancer, the cigarette industry startled pundits by acknowledging the research and then calling for more research.

“More research” is a brilliant (if evil) tactic. It resonates with people who embrace science (since it calls for more) and it also works for people who want the status quo to remain untouched (because it calls for later).

We’ve seen this playbook used again and again. In the face of reality, big companies simply stall. And they’ve discovered that when the problem is chronic, nuanced and complex, they can stall for a very long time.

Because we choose to not understand. We’d prefer to pretend that we can wait. We accept that maybe, more research will pleasantly surprise us.

As long as people don’t understand, the stalling works.

Spending more than a year working as a volunteer with hundreds of other people on The Carbon Almanac gave me a chance to really understand what is happening to our climate. Not just to the weather (10 days in a row over 119 degrees in Phoenix)… to the climate. To see that the best time to act was thirty years ago, but now is all we have left.

It’s easy to be confused, but it’s not that difficult to understand. It’s all in the almanac.

The new CEO of Shell just announced that the company is redoubling its efforts to produce ever more fossil fuels. Because there’s money to be made in the short-run. And because the public doesn’t see.

Until we understand, it’s difficult to make change happen.

The good news is that understanding is within our reach.


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