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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Great Climate Change Distraction

Feb 9th, 2011

by F. Grey Parker

The GOP continues to make good on it's promise to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and hopefully cripple and defund The Clean Air Act. There is every reason to believe they will succeed and it's because of semantics, not science.

From last week's AP:
"In a sharp challenge to the Obama administration, House Republicans intend to unveil legislation Wednesday to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and expect to advance the bill quickly, officials disclosed Tuesday night. The officials said the bill would nullify all of the steps the EPA has taken to date on the issue, including a threshold finding that greenhouse gases constitute a danger to the public health and welfare."

This action came as no surprise. There were overt declarations of the GOP's intent well before the election. There is plenty of other coverage here, here, and here.

Nearly every discussion in America about the regulation of industrial airborne particulate emissions is overwhelmed by the debate over the validity of greenhouse gases as a component of global warming. No matter how rich the quality of scientific data showing this to be a real and ongoing threat, no matter how many provable criteria bear out what we know to be happening, and no matter how slowly we speak to those who deny it, the opponents will never be swayed. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, the enemies of action to reduce these pollutants on these grounds will not budge. We have to accept that they are as intractable on this as Creationists are with regards to evolution. For these naysayers, global warming denial is literally an article of faith.

It's beginning to occur to me that this is very much to the benefit of polluters. In fact, I would go so far as to say it's exactly what they want. It is a distraction which has utterly overtaken the popular consciousness. It now wholly defines the fights over what actually constitutes appropriate regulatory mechanisms. For the sake of the environment, public health and the general welfare, we need to change tactics and bluntly alter our language. There are better arguments for the average citizen, after all.

Here are some examples. Poison is bad for us. We shouldn't poison our children. We should not poison the air we breathe. We should not poison the air our children breathe. We shouldn't allow airborne poisons to enter our streams, our groundwater and then our bodies. We shouldn't give our children cancer. We shouldn't risk higher rates of cancer for the sake of cheaper energy markets. We shouldn't allow our people to be more sickly to enhance private portfolios and shareholder dividends. We shouldn't make short term decisions for corporate gains that result in widespread and dramatic increases in crippling illnesses. We should not casually ensure that far more of our citizens will require catastrophic care that costs hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in coming generations.

Until the greenhouse gas/climate change controversy overtook these simpler arguments, the environmental movement had achieved decades of relatively consistent forward progress. Since the turn of the millennium, the situation  has changed and not merely due to the renewed dominance of the Republican brand.

Let's take a look at the language from recent major media coverage of the GOP's pro-pollution initiatives using the links from earlier in this piece. It is illuminating. It is also a very bad sign for the environmental movement as a whole. The are nine words that I have chosen in an exercise to illustrate my point. The number of times they appear casually confirms my thesis.

These words are:
greenhouse gases - health - pollution - climate - hazardous - toxin - cancer - carcinogen - poison

In the AP story:
greenhouse gases = 9  health =3  pollution =1  climate =1  hazardous =0  toxin =0  cancer =0  carcinogen =0  poison =0

It should be noted that Salon, The Huffington Post, and even the FOXNews websites ALL ran the same AP wire piece . If that's not informational hegemony I don't know what is.

In the Yahoo article also drawn from AP services:
greenhouse gases =6  health =2  climate =1  pollution =0  hazardous =0  toxin =0  cancer =0  carcinogen =0  poison =0

Over at The Hill, things got even better:
climate =9  greenhouse gases =2  health =0  pollution =0  hazardous =0  toxin =0  cancer =0  carcinogen =0  poison =0

From the McClatchey services piece:
climate =7  greenhouse gases =5  health = (appears twice only in context of HCR repeal)  pollution =1  hazardous =0  toxin =0  cancer =0  carcinogen =0  poison =0

The words that dominate the vast majority of coverage are triggers. They serve to defuse public anger and distract from the many other reasons we should be fighting for development of cleaner technology. After so many years of anti-climate change propaganda, for the environmental activist community to continue to take the climate-change-argument bait actually undermines our every effort to foster sustainable progress. We must stop taking the bait.


  1. This is way too important. This is way too good not to shop around -- DKos, HuffPo, DemocraticUnderground, Media Matters and to every other news 'source' you listed word counts for.

  2. Thanks, Connie. It always means a lot coming from you. I really think I am on to something kind of important here. It truly is my belief that the environmental movement in America has been GUTTED by semantics.

    And rest assured I am pushing this one big time!