When I first began paying attention to the climate debate I was struck by the emotional, over-the-top language. When they discussed climate change, activists, journalists, and politicians didn’t sound measured and sensible. Rather, they appeared to have lost all sense of proportion.

Rather than speaking calmly and reassuringly (what I expect of real leaders in a real crisis), these people seemed intent on instilling fear (what demagogues trying to stampede public opinion have always done).

I started paying attention to this phenomenon three years ago. It remains a problem. Here’s a sampling of some of the language we’ve heard in recent weeks. All bolding has been added by me:

  • Bianca Jagger, pop star Mick Jagger’s former wife, told us from the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, that “We have already reached the stage of dangerous climate change. The task now is to prevent irreversible climate chaos” – all the while insisting that she was “not being alarmist.”
  • Brad Johnson, a blogger at Grist.com wrote about our “poisoned climate” and “climate pollution.” He then discussed a list of storms, floods, and landslides as though these were something new rather than events that have been recorded since biblical times. In a single blog post this gentleman used the word bomb five times while describing the weather.
  • A DowJones journalist quoted a student in Durban using words such as freaked out and petrified with respect to the state of the climate negotiations.
  • A spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists announced that “we’re running out of time.” (Scientific training isn’t a requirement of membership in that organization; even dogs can join.)

Well I’m one woman who isn’t as naive she used to be. I’ve learned that carbon dioxide – which is now routinely referred to as poison and pollution – is what every newborn babe exhales with every breath. It’s what bread dough emits as it rises. It’s what soft drink manufacturers use to carbonate the beverages that households consume by the litre every week of every year.

I’ve also discovered that the public has been advised at regular intervals that this is our last opportunity to save the planet – see this wonderful piece, An updated history of last chances to save the world. We’ll be hearing a great deal about the Rio Earth Summit soon since 2012 will mark its 20th anniversary. But back then, in 1992, the New Scientist magazine was running the headline Last chance to save the planet?

Again and again activists have played on our fears. Again and again they’ve insisted we take dramatic steps to respond to crises that don’t exist.

Well it’s all wearing a little thin, folks. Not to mention that its quite despicable, really. Giving little kids nightmares isn’t an honourable way to earn a living.


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