Sunday, May 03, 2009

Rephrasing global warming

NY Times is reporting on a new attempt to convince more people that global warming is real.

Seeking to Save the Planet, With a Thesaurus

The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”

The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”


I fully understand the power of words when trying to convince someone about an idea or a stance, which is why I won't ever refer to anti-choice people by the label they give themselves. Regarding global warming, however, we're not talking about ideas or stances, but hard scientific facts.

What's needed is for the decision makers to understand these facts, and act accordingly. As James Hansen said in a recent talk in Denmark, which I attended, the problem is the difference in what is known (by the scientists) and what is understood (by the politicians and the public).

The so-called "debate" about global warming, or rather anthropogenic global warming, is a debate between the scientific community on one side, and a well-funded pseudo-scientific inter-connected lobbyist network on the other side. Changing the words won't change this fact.

One of the most well-known speakers on the side of science is a politician, Al Gore. By US standards, he falls squarely in the center of the political spectrum (in Europe, he would be considered right-of-center). He has done a lot in convincing people about the threat - not by changing the terminology, but by presenting what we know (the facts, and the science behind it). This is how we convince people. Not by trying to think of new words to say the same things.

New terminology would perhaps be successful, if it was just an image problem, but since the problem is caused by people actively lying about the science, no amount of rephrasing will help.

In other words, while I understand what ecoAmerica is suggesting, they don't take into consideration the fact that there are well-funded organizations which will actively work against the new terminology, trying to keep real science from shaping the public opinion.

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2 Comments:

Blogger birdbrainscan said...

Hi Kristjan.

Good post - thanks. [Just replace "anthropomorphic" with "anthropogenic" - the first one means 'projecting human qualities, feelings or thoughts on a non-human']

As for names, the organized campaign for confusion has done a lot of persuasion by naming - creating terms like 'climate alarmists' (or even 'clean coal') and by deeming climate activism as 'hysteria', 'a religion', or 'group-think' while deeming themselves climate 'realists.' As soon as the reader accepts such a choice of terms, all balanced reflection is precluded.

So I can see a case for climate activists to choose some new phrases in response to these persuaders; terms like 'climate chaos' (favored by Greenpeace over here) or 'climate disruption' see useful to me.

Two new books that I'm reading on this topic are Chris Mooney's _Unscientific America_ and James Hoggan's _Climate Cover-Up_. I'm also finding useful insights in discussions on the psychology of climate denial. I've covered one of these in a post on my blog,
Green Herring

October 04, 2009 6:37 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Thanks for the correction.

October 04, 2009 10:14 AM  

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