My first _Guardian_ online article: RR on the climate emergency
Sad to see the many comments below the article from those many who are in one way or another in denial... [Join the conversation? But if you do so, I would urge you to try to exercise some respect and restraint towards those you disagree with in the conversation, even where that respect has not been shown to me...] ...Anyway, don't worry: this messenger isn't for shooting... ...The very real danger -- the likelihood, unless we make something very big happen, very fast -- of climate catastrophe within the lifetime of many of us, means that the insults and ignorance of certain vocal commenters [some of whom are the usual suspects, who will be known to some of you from other unpleasant virtual encounters] is no more than water off one's back...
Here, for the keen, is the original unexpurgated article before it was edited down to standard Comment-is-free length by the _Guardian_ team:
To speak of ‘climate change’ is still to be in denial
Rupert Read; _Guardian_ online.
In this connection, an increasing number of voices who are very far from being climate-change-deniers have been arguing that using graphic terms to scare people about man-made climate change is counter-productive. That it merely scares, or (worse) precipitates denial or ‘eco-fatigue’, and does not motivate effective action. One of the most intelligent of these voices is Leo Hickman, who in this newspaper (“Cry wolf, but gently”, Nov. 10) quotes with approval my colleague at the University of East Anglia, the eminent climate scientist Prof. Mike Hulme, warning us off using terms such as “catastrophe” in describing the potential future impacts of manmade climate change for just this reason. Some have gone further, lambasting the graphic description of what will happen if we do not act effectively to stop CO2 emissions from going through the roof as ‘climate porn’.
Now, I agree that it is absolutely not enough to scare people. I agree that one needs to emphasise how the socio-economic changes needed to stop man-made climate change are in themselves life-improving (e.g. that localising life rather than globalising everything will actually make us happier in itself, even leaving aside how crucial it is to reduce carbon emissions from travel and transport). And I agree that one needs to ensure that people don’t think that the mountain is too big to climb: people need to be given tools to see that preventing catastrophic climate change is doable. But, as my chosen wording of the previous sentence already implies, the burden of my argument here is that it is not wise of us to tone down our language, in response to this situation. I do not, that is, agree that we should leave aside talk of ‘catastrophe’. In fact, by sticking to talking of ‘climate change’ rather than of ‘climate chaos’ and ‘potential climate catastrophe’, one is in fact playing the same game as the more subtle and intelligent of the climate-change-deniers. One is talking their language. That ought to be enough to make anyone stop, think, and question what they are doing.
The Guardian’s own Steven Poole has shown this, in his important book ‘Unspeak’. Poole documents how the term ‘climate change’ became the term of choice for the Saudis, for the
A less emotional challenge… But shouldn’t we be willing to get a little ‘emotional’, over the potential destruction of our entire future as a civilization? Frank Luntz wants us all to stay cool-headed over ‘climate change’. A goal that he shares with Mike Hulme. Whereas I say that people ought to be scared, and angry, and itching to do something about it. There is a wolf coming, that over time will eat almost every last one of us unless we stop it…
There I go again, using scare tactics, dramatizing… But how might the total destruction of human civilisation outside a few outposts in
This is not crying wolf. This is simply telling the truth. Runaway climate change could within a century or so collapse civilisation on lifeboat Earth entirely, just as (for example) civilisation and population levels on
My linguistic proposal is pretty straightforward. ‘Climate change’ is an Orwellian , and should be dropped. To use that term is to be complicit with the agendas of Exxon and Bush. It is, I believe, still to be in denial. It is a term used by those who at some level still hope that maybe this problem is going to go away, or that it isn’t too bad, or who at least prefer not to think about just how desperately bad things will be if effective action is not taken to stop it getting out of control. …We should speak honestly, instead. That is: we should speak of ‘climate chaos’, ‘climate crisis’, ‘global over-heating’, and the risk of ‘climate catastrophe’. To do so is to do no more than call attention directly to the utterly drastic consequences of untrammelled consumerism. It is, literally, truth-in-advertising.
Prof. Hulme wants to maintain scientific decorum. But it is not the job of climate scientists to tell us how to describe what the human consequences would be of us ignoring their predictions. That is rather the task of artists, activists, politicians and philosophers. It is they who will give us the wake-up call that we still evidently need, if anyone will.
Talking about averting “climate catastrophe” is not alarmism. It is simply calling things by their true names.