“This has been a fascinating year for the word ‘climate,’ and we see that reflected especially in the way that English speakers have combined it with other words. We are clearly struggling to articulate our climate anxiety,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries.
Usage of the phrase “climate emergency” by September was more than 100 times as common as it had been the previous year. The phrase surpassed all of other types of emergency (health, hospital, family, etc.,) to become the most written-about emergency by a huge margin, with over three times the usage frequency of health, the second-ranking word. Statistically speaking, this represents a new trend in the use of the word emergency, Oxford said.
One of the most effective ways to spread propaganda is to modify every day language to support the proponent’s agenda.
However – the specific means of what constitutes propaganda fall down to language. Among the most common propaganda techniques are appealing to fear, prejudice and “plain folk”, direct calls to action, exaggeration, euphemism, name-calling and loaded language.
The power of words is made clear by this passage:
Wording is incredibly powerful. In advertising, copywriters agonise over taglines that are merely five words long. The effectiveness of wording is entirely separate to design, font usage and imagery – the things we assume advertising prioritises. It resonates in the mind long after the residual image has faded, like a distant, echoing bell.
That previous statement itself is an example; using a cliché of real-world experience to heighten an argument – language that has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation, but is universal enough to strike an emotive chord, or unearth a memory, in order to appeal more strongly to the reader.
The specific goal is that the target only think in terms of “climate crisis”, “climate emergency” and not “climate” or “climate change”. The language around climate is thus “loaded language” designed specifically to appeal to your emotions. (Kahneman’s System 1 thinking style rather than your System 2 rational, data and evidence-based thinking style).
I added the boldface, above. “Global warming” was originally changed to “climate change” – because many cold weather occurrences were blamed on human induced climate change and this confused the “global warming” message. But “climate change” did not result in sufficient public action so the journalism community itself elected to invent the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” and “global heating” (which returns us to the previously discarded “global warming” terminology). This initiative was begun by the George Mason University “Center for Climate Change Communications” , the Columbia Journalism Review, and others, and has been adopted by numerous newspapers and broadcasters.
As this Columbia Journalism Review article notes, propaganda methods, run by psychologists, are used to manipulate readers and viewers:
Discussions about climate-change journalism often overlook newsrooms’ visual vocabularies for talking about it. A quick image search on Google for “climate change” reveals a dismal selection of lone polar bears, melting ice, and anonymous smoke. But humans need to see themselves in the climate change story in order understand the human connection to its causes, consequences, and potential solutions, Dr. Adam Corner, Research Director at Climate Outreach and an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Psychology, Cardiff University, argues. Climate Visuals, an image repository co-founded by Corner, provides hundreds of pictures for use, with explanations based on research about why certain images might connect with audiences.
As the quoted link says,
Through a combination of repetition ad nauseam and the near perpetual carpet-bombing of your senses with language, certain phrases have become inseparable from brands, people, policies and political affiliations.
Be ware the power of propaganda techniques to influence what you believe to be true or false.
Propaganda methods are actively applied to media climate communications and the media is carpet-bombing your senses so that “climate” and “emergency” and “climate” and “crisis” are indelibly imprinted in your brain. Much of the world’s media have agreed to collude in this propaganda messaging campaign.
Update: After I wrote this blog post, I was alerted to this report that highlights the coordinated propaganda operation of global media in regards to climate communications in late 2019. The Washington Post and the New York Times declined to participate in this effort due to the link to activist organizations and propaganda messaging operations. The linked report is about the same subject as my post. News organizations participating in the coordinated effort do not, generally, report on the coordination in the same detail they cover other stories. At best, its a brief mention they are colluding to deliver a unified message, to carpet-bomb readers with the same stories simultaneously. This is 21st century journalism.
Standard Disclaimer Applies: How to Do Climate Communications – Never Cry Wolf
The Nature Conservancy should focus on facts of atmospheric CO2 levels rising, land and sea surface temperature anomalies, ice pack changes, ocean Ph and sea level change (IPCC Synthesis Report, Figure SPM.1) – as reported by reputable scientific bodies, but they did not. Instead they went straight for hyperbole and making untrue claims to promote fear and hysteria.
Stick with the facts of CO2 rising, sea level ice and temperature changes, ice mass changes or risk tuning all of us out. Shrill terminology designed to create emotional outrage and responses is a total turn off.
The facts are sufficient. The impacts of untrue propaganda hysteria, on the other hand, are to turn off the target completely. We have learned nothing from the parable of the boy who repeatedly cried Wolf!
The propaganda messaging methods in use are leading to public opinions that are not based in facts, logic or evidence. In the U.S. 51% of those aged 18-34 believe humanity may become extinct within 10-15 years, even though there is zero evidence to support such a conclusion. This disconnect between belief and reality risks the potential for major backlash against taking action to reduce CO2-equivalent effects on climate.
Some suggest focusing on solutions and opportunities – instead of unrealistic, dystopian catastrophes designed primarily as click-bait – would be a more effective and positive way forward for climate communications. Instead, we get intense negativity – and falsehoods – that have led to children and adults to seek mental health treatment for induced anxiety.
Personal Notes on Climate Realism
We are taking direct actions to reduce our CO2-equivalent emissions. In late 2019, we are spending $18,000 (before credits) to install a solar PV array that will reduce our home’s annual grid-provided electricity to net zero (likely less). Our utility generates 56% of its electricity by burning coal and 14% by burning natural gas (about half the emissions of coal). Solar PV directly cuts our portion of those GHG emissions to zero.
We are spending over $5,000 to upgrade 40 year old R-19 attic insulation (which has settled such that it is less than that) to R-49 building code standards. For an all electric house, we currently use 1/3d the amount of electricity of similar homes. We heat using locally sourced wood pellets and our home is cold most every winter day. I drive a Honda Fit averaging about 42 mpg. While spending an amount similar to a low end electric vehicle, our solar and attic upgrades we will have a far greater reduction in CO2 emissions than buying an EV. About half of an EV’s lifetime CO2 emissions occur during its manufacturing and if you live where your electricity is generated by burning coal, your overall CO2 emissions reductions are small. While EVs will generally reduce CO2 emissions, for many they are primarily a virtue signaling device (a survey by Volvo found about 75% of purchasers said this, and selected an EV because paradoxically it “helps them to feel better about making less environmentally conscious decisions in “other areas of life.”.)
I post this at the end of each climate communications post because merely asking any questions about climate change results in being called a climate denier or a Nazi.
Call me a climate realist but don’t call me a denier or a Nazi.