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What happened?

Posted by Richard Monday, January 30, 2012


Booker is not the only one to notice that Obama has gone shy about "climate change". Maxwell T. Boykoff in The Washington Post has picked it up as well, calling it a "dangerous shift" in the rhetoric. Asking "what happened" to the terms "climate change" and "global warming", Boykoff observes that they have nearly disappeared from the political vocabulary,

A recent study at Brown University looked specifically at the Obama administration's language and calls for "clean energy" and "energy independence" now occupied the terrain. Graciela Kincaid, a co-author of the study, wrote: "The phrases 'climate change' and 'global warming' have become all but taboo on Capitol Hill. These terms are stunningly absent from the political arena".

This somewhat ties in with a report from Reuters last week, which noted that the United Nations "earth summit" scheduled for June in Rio is also abandoning "climate change" in favour of setting goals for "sustainable development".

This rather confirms the inherent flexibility in the green objectives, with "climate change" being but one issue in the UN's ambitious "Agenda 21" programme. This, in fact, stems from the Bruntland Report in 1987, which talks of "interlocking crises", which enables activists to switch from one heading to another, which still pursuing the same overall game plan.

Changing the rhetoric, therefore, gives the Greens tactical flexibility and a degree of resilience, enabling them to reflect the public mood and political realities – more so in the US. There, it would seem, if "climate change" is encountering resistance, the people can be sold "energy independence". But the underlying agenda remains the same.

In the UK, though, there seems to be less flexibility. Even while the Mail on Sunday, the same edition is covering the British administrations "first national risk assessment of climate change", warning us that – quite literally – some of us are going to die (5,900 every year – it would seem).

Given that the UK has been more committed than the US to tackling climate change, and for longer, it maybe will take longer to change the rhetoric. Already, though, we see multiple job adverts for "sustainability officers" (and variations), more so than climate change vacancies.

However, the purists are not happy. Rebranding is all very well but Boykoff complains that calling climate change by another name creates limits of its own. "The way we talk about the problem affects how we deal with it", he says. "And though some new wording may deflect political heat, it can't alter the fact that, 'climate change' or not, the climate is changing".

Perhaps, though, rebranding is not necessary. After all, global cooling is also "climate change", even if one suspects that our response to cooling might be a tad different from how we deal with the proclaimed but non-existent warming.

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