Per Capita Davis: The media could use change of language
I hardly know where to start. One of my main conundrums in writing this column has been, over time, whether to “sound the alarm” and stress the urgency of action and the enormous potential dire consequences, or to try to look at the bright side, be optimistic, or at least hopeful, and shine a light on positive news related to the climate crisis.
The recent report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of nearly 100 scientists from nations all over the world, basically upped the ante and said we better get our act together way fast or we are in big trouble by 2045. This immediately set me to figuring out if I could reasonably expect to be alive in 2045, and I think I have a (small) chance at that. So, what used to be described as an issue for our grandchildren, then our children, is now looming for almost all of us, in our lifetimes.
One UN official described the report as, “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen” — something we have all experienced and don’t want repeated so we act to figure out what triggered the alarm and fix it.
But, there’s a lot to digest in this news and I want to stew on it for a while. So, for now, be alarmed, but the remainder of this column is going to be about a bone I have to pick with the media. Maybe a whole bunch of bones.
Also annoying is the term “bickering” to describe debate or discussion of political issues, including the climate crisis. This term minimizes the seriousness of policy choices presented by each side. The stakes are high between those who argue for lots and lots of coal and those who want to eliminate that dirty fossil fuel, as an example. My complaint about this word is not limited to the climate crisis; the media happily applies it to a broad array of policy differences.
And even the notion of “each side” in the paragraph above is odious. If there are 700 scientists with peer-reviewed studies from every country in the world sounding an alarm, repeatedly over the years, with predicted effects of adverse consequences coming true before our eyes, do we really need to call the small group of industry-funded naysayers the “other side”?
This tendency towards “false equivalency” is one of the tools used intentionally to sow confusion about science and facts and underlies a whole huge part of the reason many people are under the misimpression that there is disagreement, equivalent in its veracity, about whether climate change is real and humans are the major cause.
Another one that really gripes me is Russian “meddling” when it comes to our elections and our way of life. Excuse me, but meddling is something a neighbor does instead of minding his or her own business. The Russians “attacked” our country. Cyber attacks are the new warfare. Unless we see bozo leaders actually setting off a nuclear war, cyber attacks are the only real option for undermining another country, or even the foundations of democracy. And it’s a lot cheaper than missiles, jet planes, aircraft carriers, and nuclear weapons.
This misuse of descriptive vocabulary permits those who use it to ignore the fact that our country and our system of government is under attack, an attack as real as one involving tanks, and that anyone who condones or ignores the attackers is not defending our country and our way of life.
This may become very real to us all when, at some point, our energy infrastructure is attacked and disabled, which is one argument for a decentralized energy system rather than relying on huge power plants, though even decentralized systems will be linked through transmission and distribution systems.
Finally, “fake news,” a term that didn’t exist until 2016 when one candidate in particular used it to deny, deflect and confuse, and which has now spread around the world with the principal purpose, as far as I can tell, of sowing doubt and creating confusion about what is real.
People we should admire, smart people who have been devoting their lives to learning, including the scientists involved in the IPCC Report are, rather than being recognized for their intellect and commitment to facts and informing the public of real and present danger, instead are accused of foisting a huge fraud on the world.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis and an admirer of our local media’s integrity. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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