Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Meaningless phrase alert ...

... I just saw an ad on the Guardian's Web site that employed the phrase "combating climate change."
What can this possibly mean? That the aim is to arrest climate change? That it is bad for climate to change? Climate not only does change. It is in a condition of continuous change. That is its nature. The only way to combat climate change, it seems to me, would be to abolish climate altogether. It also seems to me that weasel terms like this are what people use when they want to put something over on someone.


  1. Anonymous5:05 AM

    Why don't you tell us what it is that the Guardian want to put over on us?

  2. The Guardian wasn't trying put anything over on us in this case. It was an advertisement on the site. But if you Google the phrase there seem to be countless examples of its use. My point is that the phrase cannnot withstand rational scrutiny. I do not think it unreasonable to ask those who argue against "climate change" to, at the very least, specify what an optimal climate would be. Presumably, you cannot have optimal climatic conditions everywhere on the globe. Of course there was what some call the Medieval Climate Optimum - but that involved warming, which is why I guess some refer to it as the Medieval Climatic Anomaly. My Jesuit preceptors always insisted that you cannot proceed with an argument unless you define your terms. I am asking that the term "climate change" be clearly defined and not merely bandied about.

  3. Grrrr. I just had a very cogent comment that got swallowed by blogger and my own stupidity in hitting the back button. Trying again. . .

    Semantics aside, I think the conversation we need to have is about how we see the natural world and its resources.

    The debate on "Climate Change" or "Global Warming" or whatever you want to call it, seems to degenerate into a 'is not', 'is so' sort of argument. The bottom line is that it's never a good idea to defecate where you live. But we humans seem to be terminally short sighted about these things.

    If our only economic engine is globalization and resource utilization with its resultant pollution, then we have a true crisis, regardless of what we call it.

    Ultimately, the earth has survived worse than what we've been able to throw at it, so I have faith the planet will survive. In my most cynical moments, I think better without us.

    A poem from a few years ago:

    The Evolution of Fear

    This wound sours beneath the skin,
    spreads its toxins in the blood. Black

    lines streak through fevered flesh,
    pulse toward the heart. Sterilize

    your sharpest blade. Pierce deep
    to the bone until the fluids run clean.

    We have no natural immunity--
    no protection or divine intervention

    for an invisible plague. We are both
    vector and host. The saved

    and the damned. We curse the fleas
    that bite the rats. We bait the traps.

    Burn the living. Burn the dead.
    Let the fire decide. Let the wind

    scatter our ashes out to sea. Plankton
    will consume our memories. In time perhaps,

    something curious or foolish enough
    can emerge from the muck to try again.


  4. Hi Lisa,
    A very nice poem And I agree - treating the enviroment with respect is a no-brainer. Which is why people like Freeman Dyson think that addressing poverty is a better undertaking than spending billions based on computer-model projections, since, as poverty decreases, concern for the environment increases. I don't, however, think we can put semantics aside altogether, because corruption of language is dangerous. "Climate change" has become the preferred term because it is more neutral than "global warming." Well, it is neutral because it is a redundancy.

  5. Frank,

    In your response you say ". . .since, as poverty decreases, concern for the environment increases."

    That may be true in a 'maslow's heriarchy' manner, but I think that misses the boat on the real problem. Environmental degradation is a function of unrestrained industrialization rather than directly tied to socioeconomic status.

    Where they are tied, is in the health effects of the environmental pollution. Those in lower socioeconomic groups have less access to medical care and higher exposure to pollutants by virtue of living in more industrialized or inner city environments.

    This is a link to a fascinating UN
    on the problem as studied in Japan.

    The fact is that the wealthiest nations still use and abuse more than their (our) fair share of the planet.

    Regardless of whether their is a direct cause and effect relationship between that pattern of resource use and catastrophic change in climate patterns (eg, the rise in sea level that threatens to drown many Pacific islands) doesn't change the fact that what we are doing is not, in the long term, sustainable.

    If the concept of 'climate change' captures the public's imagination and leads to a real shift in how we view our place in the world, then perhaps it matters less what we call it.

  6. That was not my point, Lisa, or Dyson's. The point is that as a society becomes more affluent, its members take better care of their living space. There is no "unrestrained" industrialization in the so-called First World for that reason. I confess to being suspicious of studies issued by the UN (this from someone whose first professional book review was of Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings).

  7. I might add that the question regarding climate must remain whether it is true, not whether it is useful as propaganda, however desirable the end.