An Open Letter to the Environmental Community: Language Matters! by Ralph Nader

IMG_7353-climate emergency

Image by Takver via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

by Ralph Nader
The Nader Page, May 3, 2019
May 6, 2019

To the Environmental Community:

In 2003, political strategist Frank Luntz wrote a confidential Republican Party memo on what he called “the environmental communications battle.”

In that memo, Luntz advised Republicans to change the words they used to meet their ends. “The scientific debate is closing but not yet closed,” he wrote. “There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science,” Luntz proposed using the phrase “climate change” instead of “global warming.” His reasoning: “…while global warming has catastrophic communications attached to it, climate change sounds a more controllable and less emotional challenge.”

Like it or not, Frank Luntz had a point. When I was growing up in New England, “climate change” meant the changing of the seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Today, in the midst of increasingly alarming scientific studies and giant storms, the necessary response has been diminished by this widely-accepted softening of the words we use to describe the dangerous reality that stands before us. Language matters!

I recently reached out to two leading and widely respected ecologists, Paul Hawken and Bill McKibben, to get their input on the mainstream usage of the benign phrase “climate change.” McKibben now uses the far more potent phrase “climate chaos.” Hawken believes the proper term is “climate volatility.”

One thing is abundantly clear―it’s time to change the words to meet the peril! As Confucius said:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”

Would you join us in replacing the use of the all-together benign phrase “climate change” with variations of more grave language? Consider the following alternatives: climate crisis, climate catastrophe, climate disruption, climate upheaval, or even global warming. Whatever choice of words, we should stop using “climate change.”

Sincerely,
Ralph Nader

from the archives:

Chris Hedges: The Issue Before Us is Death

What Price a Livable Planet? by Paul Street

I don’t like the phrase “Climate Change.” It’s too mild. Try Climate Catastrophe. by Paul Street

As the World Burns: Hurtling Towards an Unlivable Planet by Paul Street

Chris Hedges: Extinction Rebellion, Part 2

Chris Hedges: Extinction Rebellion, Part 1

Chris Hedges and Dahr Jamail: The End of Ice + The World Will End in Fire by David Swanson

Our Way Of Life Must Die — Another World Is Possible

Extreme Heat Could Make One Third of Planet Uninhabitable + Mass Media Fail to Link Heat Waves and Climate Change

11 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Environmental Community: Language Matters! by Ralph Nader

  1. Pingback: David Swanson: We Can’t Save the Climate Without Ending War – Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: Extreme Heat Could Make One Third of Planet Uninhabitable + Mass Media Fail to Link Heat Waves and Climate Change – Dandelion Salad

  3. Pingback: Our Way Of Life Must Die — Another World Is Possible – Dandelion Salad

  4. Pingback: Chris Hedges and Dahr Jamail: The End of Ice + The World Will End in Fire by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  5. Pingback: Chris Hedges: Extinction Rebellion, Part 1 – Dandelion Salad

  6. Pingback: Chris Hedges: Extinction Rebellion, Part 2 – Dandelion Salad

  7. I agree with Nader. My own suggested term — the term I’ve been using for a couple of years now — is “CLIMATE APOCALYPSE.” That’s because I am convinced that we are nearing the extinction of our species, and most other species presently on earth. I see that coming within two decades, if we don’t change our ways quickly. Most people don’t see it coming that big or that soon, because they haven’t understood feedback loops and tipping points (https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/runaway-warming/#nonlinear).

    The first signs of our doom will NOT be the flooded coastal cities. I think that, much sooner, we will see massive crop failures and huge rises in food prices. That will trigger the collapse of civilization. And the collapse of civilization will NOT halt the warming process, because we have set in motion various feedback loops that will continue. Indeed, the only hope for the ecosystem is if we USE civilization more wisely, to FIX the climate BEFORE civilization collapses.

    To do that, though, I’m pretty sure we’ll need to end capitalism. After all, the people who lie about climate (and about wars and economics) are not just crazy and stupid; they lie also because they are paid to lie, because someone somewhere is making a short-term profit from the destruction of the world. That’s inherent in the fundamental principles of capitalism — it’s not just some superficial corruption, so it can’t be fixed through reform. We must end capitalism altogether. And to do that, we need to get a lot more people to understand the need to do that (https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/revolt/).

  8. Pingback: I don’t like the phrase “Climate Change.” It’s too mild. Try Climate Catastrophe. by Paul Street – Dandelion Salad

  9. Pingback: As the World Burns: Hurtling Towards an Unlivable Planet by Paul Street – Dandelion Salad

  10. Pingback: What Price a Livable Planet? by Paul Street – Dandelion Salad

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