Is this really a problem of rhetoric ?

Climate change, aka global warmingMankind as a whole – and particularly its leaders – is slow on acting against climate change, an issue that could be its doom if nothing was done fast and big to avoid the worst crises.

Recently several articles – including on Grist and Dot Earth  – have been published wondering if this fact was due to bad rhetoric (or PR, but this term is to me more business related)

I believe there indeed is a problem. Solutions exist and would bring many improvements over our current energy sources and lifestyle. So why aren’t we applying them already ?

Additionally, why should we keep on arguing on climate change, as there are still some folks here and there that don’t believe in climate change ?

Couldn’t we, or even shouldn’t we, stop talking about it and press on the numerous advantages brought by alternative energy solutions and changing our lifestyles ?

As Andrew Revkin noted on Dot Earth:

As debates over national and global climate and energy policy continue to drag out, there’s been an intensifying exploration of climate miscommunication among those seeking concrete actions that will make a noticeable difference in the atmosphere someday.

If the science pointing to a rising risk of dangerous human interference with climate is settled, the thinking goes, then why aren’t people and the world’s nations galvanized? Maybe it’s a language problem? This reflects an ongoing exploration here.

Some even advocated we should stop using the terms climate change or global warming and suggested a term that to me sounded absolutely preposterous and even obnoxious: “our deteriorating atmosphere “.

To me, this euphemism is far too vague. Climate change on the other hand is spot on. Our climate is currently changing, because of the billion tons of pollutants we emit each year.

Similarly, would a Doctor announce to his or her patient that instead of telling him the blunt truth of a cancer in its terminal phase, would he or she says that the patient has ” a deteriorating health ” ? I don’t think so.

What do you think ?

2 thoughts on “Is this really a problem of rhetoric ?”

  1. It’s not really the language that’s the problem. The issue is that societies have inertia and some friction.

    In physics, inertia is the property of an object that means it will continue going at the same speed and in the same direction (including staying still and going nowhere) unless acted on by an outside force.

    This outside force is resisted by friction. If you put a brick on concrete and push gently on it, it won’t move at first. But as you increase the force pushing it, you find that suddenly there’s just enough force to get it moving, and in fact it then moves more quickly than you expected – it takes less force to keep it moving than it took to get in moving in the first place.

    Societies are the same. Because they’re made up of millions of people all living a certain way, for the society to change quite a number of people will need to change. Left alone, they’ll tend to keep living as they’ve always lived. That’s their inertia.

    But they also have friction – they actively resist change. We see that in for example GM lobbying the US Congress not to bring in fuel efficiency standards, or the public lobbying the government to reduce fuel taxes.

    An outside force – climate change and resource depletion – is acting on society, trying to get it to change speed and direction. The force is not yet enough to make the brick move, but when it does move, it’ll be quicker than anyone expected.

    It’s not really about the words we use. Consider someone who’s overweight and unhealthy. Do they go to the gym and change their diet because someone said “you have deteriorating health” or “you’re dying”? No. In the end it’s their decision. You can encourage it but the exact words you use aren’t that important.

    After all, part of the friction is people arguing about what words to use. For example, many people have complained about the strong language in my blog. I told them to fuck off :p

  2. Agreed a billion times Kiashu, thanks for your comment !

    Indeed it is not a problem of language / words / rhetoric or whatever. To me using ” deteriorating atmosphere ” is far too complex for some people to understand (the ones who as an example don’t know what ignoramus mean). Climate change is to the point, simple, does the job…

    You made me laugh out loud with your last paragraph, which reminds me of a piece of dialogue in The Big Lebowski :

    Here it goes:

    The Stranger: There’s just one thing, Dude.
    The Dude: And what’s that?
    The Stranger: Do you have to use so many cuss words?
    The Dude: What the fuck you talking about?
    The Stranger: Okay, Dude. Have it your way.

    (Thanks to imdb)

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