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The terminology emergency

12 Jun 2019 | OP ED Watch

The National Post’s Kelly McParland takes exception to activists upping the rhetorical ante from climate change to climate emergency to climate crisis, and lambastes the media for “a disconcerting willingness to parrot politicians blessed with access to a microphone.” Especially when the politicians are twisting language: “eco warriors from McKenna on down now commonly refer to emissions as ‘pollution,’ which they categorically are not,” he says, because “Carbon dioxide is a gas people exhale… Deliberate distortion may pollute arguments, but breathing doesn’t.”

McParland doesn’t mince words. “Expect to hear more about the “emergency” as the fall election approaches. As McKenna noted, if they say it often enough and loud enough, people start to believe it.” But in fact the reverse may be true.

An article on “The Conversation” takes much the same view as McParland from the other side. Dimitrinka Atanasova and Kjersti Fløttum, both currently at the University of Bergen (and both linguists, for those prone to dismissing any skeptic who is not a “trained climate scientist” even if they aren’t too) are great believers in the need to act on climate and the perniciousness of those who downplay it, to the point of blaming the switch from “global warming” to “climate change” on sinister Republican mastermind Frank Luntz back in 2003. But they warn that while scary rhetoric, including martial metaphors, has some value in mobilizing people, there is also a danger. “Fear appeals might also have the opposite effect to what is intended, causing indifference, apathy and feelings of powerlessness. When people see a problem as too big, they might stop believing that anything can be done to solve it. If fear is to motivate people, then studies suggest that a solution must also be presented to focus minds on action.”

The problem is that when the solution sounds a lot like losing a war not winning it people’s enthusiasm tends to melt away.

One comment on “The terminology emergency”

  1. "When people see a problem as too big, they might stop believing that anything can be done to solve it."
    I think we need to take Elizabeth May at her word. Ten years ago, she claimed we had only "hours" to act to stop climate change. We didn't act then, and haven't acted since. Ten years later, it is surely too late. We might as well sit back and enjoy the warmer weather while we can.

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