A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Towards deconstructing media greenspeak.....

� Animals - those cuddly things (e.g., badgers, pandas with big eyes, and seals) that are much, much nicer than People. Not quite so keen on mosquitoes, head lice, and the smallpox virus (animals?), mind you. Exterminate, exterminate! "But, my dear, they are all biodiversity and needed for harmony and balance!" Hm!
� Biodiversity - the best argument after Sustainable Development when you can't think of any other - everywhere can be conveniently made to be 'biodiverse' (even under your finger nails!). "40,000 species are going extinct every year, you know!" [Especially when you switch off your computer.] "Er - can you name one or two?"
� DDT - that nasty, horrid chemical in Silent Spring which kills all the pretty birds (we think!) - "And it really is a pity about those poor people who get malaria. They must find something else at once."
� Deforestation - all those lovely trees and things we like to hug (mentally) being destroyed by your greed, sin, and thoughtlessness. "Oh! Aren't those old-fashioned wooden toys lovely! Carving is such a lost craft!" Never, of course, Development. Have you also noticed? Forests are always 'exploited', never neutrally 'used'. (Both India and Venice depended on deforestation for their wonderful development. Let's raise a glass - un’ ombra - to the wood cutters of Dalmatia!).
� Degradation - something happening that we don't like. Must be globalisation.
� Development-- some dreadful change, which must be bad, corrupt, and capitalist, which we definitely won't like, and which will ruin everything forever.
� Ecological Scare - some media-worthy event to scare the pants off everybody which is very useful as moral blackmail to demonstrate that we are 100% right and that you are all totally doomed if you don't believe us and do exactly as we say.
� Eco-Warrior - (i) a hero of the green left or green right; (ii) a dysfunctional and/or self-appointed bigot (normally young and having a tantrum because they are not getting their own way) who tramples over everybody else in the name of their own environmental delusions, but who expects to be exempted from all responsibility for their actions when brought to court.
� Environmental - something vaguely 'good' that sounds nice, which will help all the little animals, birds, and (sometimes) plants, and which can be used as a mantra against all change, development and economic growth.
� Environmental Monitoring - finding the very worst Ecological Scare possible.
� Ethical Investment (Environmental) - investment in things that we have decided are 'good' for everybody else and the planet (and don't worry about all the unemployment, poverty, food shortages, etc.); has little to do with morality, like managing to produce enough food to outstrip population growth, pests, diseases, and change, for example;
� Global Warming - a perfect political construct to hammer the use of the car and the US, and to prevent all further industrial development; the ideal source of Ecological Scares come rain or shine; not, of course, to be confused with highly complex and little-understood climate change.
� Green Groups - a fun opportunity for (mainly upper class) climbers, absailers, boaties, and young folk who are out for a laugh, but who still want to feel 'good'. "Met this chap at Eton...."
� Lost Tribe - a group of folk (preferably in a deep tropical forest) who can be romanticised and patronised, who "live in harmony with Nature" and who are much, much better than we are and who can teach us so, so much, but who must not want electricity or TVs under any circumstances. "Just loved that programme about that eco-friendly tribe on the tele last night, Annabel!" "Ab fab! Justin!"
� Natural - (i) a lovely, vague word for anything that is deemed to be 'old fashioned', or has little to do with reality, people, and the modern world; (ii) chemicals which you don't know are chemicals.
� NGOs (Environmental) - an opportunity for a cool job (with lots of travel) for young people who don't know what to do with their development and environmental studies degrees or, for that matter, their life; alt. some organisations inflicting ill-trained naif young people on the rest of the world, including the poor.
� Organic - a trendy colour supplement life-style choice for those who can afford it, for those who feel they and their babies (dogs, etc.) are extra-special, and for those who want to spend time playing with mud and manure (it's Natural) - "And it's better for you all, you know, even if you can't afford it or don't want it." Watch out for those bacteria! [Real meaning: containing carbon and is or was once living. Makes the idea of 'organic salt' totally ludicrous!]
� People - nasty 'bacteria' who teem and ruin the Earth; alt. everybody who doesn't do precisely what we say and want.
� Plants - best if big trees (Rain Forest) or with pretty flowers. Not much time for lichens and mosses, though.
� Pollutant - any substance, preferably with scary-sounding name (e.g. dihydrogen oxide - 'water' to you mate!), about which hair-raising tales of human and/or environmental risk (see Ecological Scare) may be told. Makes ideal hype for the suppression of industry and enterprises of all types - no scientific data or rational evaluation needed (or desired). Read all about it! WRONG AMOUNT OF CHEMICAL KILLS! By Earnest Green. "Environmental campaigners warned today that dihydrogen oxide, a widespread substance, is dangerous in very large or very small doses, leading to death either by hydration or by dehydration.... "
� Population Growth - all those People who are spoiling our little world and who are less valuable than either we or those cuddly animals are.
� Precautionary Principle - an anti-change, anti-evolutionary, 'Stop-The-World-I-Want-To-Get-Off' mentality which aims to prevent all development and growth by using whatever convenient ecohype or fears happen to lie to hand. Keep your legs crossed and it might soon lose its fadish favour.
� Rain Forest - our icon, our long-lost Eden, a jungly place of animals and birds; unfortunately found in poor benighted countries where we don't live. "Never mind, we'll teach them what to do." "The lungs of the world." "Er... I thought lungs took in oxygen and gave out carbon dioxide!"
� Birds - "Oh! Isn't it terrible. With Global Warming the poor old lesser-spotted sporan might have to go to live in Sweden!" The ultimate icon. More money per feather..... Cf. with the poor old NSPCC.
� Savanna, Steppe, Fynbos et al. - "Er -what's that!"
� Scientist - (i) 'Non-Green': a very dangerous man (Saruman) in a white coat who will turn the world into Mordor and who is paid by Big Business and who is totally biased; (ii) 'Green': a totally unbiased person who tells 'the truth' about what humans are really doing to the Earth.
� Sustainable Development - a ubiquitous, politically-compliant, phrase, a pleasant sounding palliative to inexorable and inevitable change. Dished up as a placebo to ecochondriacs the world over. It hides the fact that ecological and economic change are the norm, not the exception; that equilibrium solutions are impossible goals; and that we inhabit a rather disturbing non-equilibrium world in which volcanoes erupt, earthquakes quake, seas rise and fall, and climate changes, whether under human influence or not. The phrase lurks everywhere, in government documents, shareholder reports, and research grant applications. Without it, you can get no money. For business, it is a neat PC word, all PR and ethical investment, but signifying little; for scientists, it means, "Give me funds for research"; for politicians, "Your nice 'Green' vote"; for authoritarian environmentalists, it means either no growth at all or limited growth of a type approved of by an elite few – wind farms, 'yes', nuclear power, 'no'; organics, 'yes', GM 'no'.
� World Green Organisations - (i) great opportunity for neo-colonial scientists who find it difficult to raise funds or to get into foreign countries to carry out their animal and plant research. And they can feel good too. (ii) Great way of interfering in other countries and spreading worldwide gloom.

"Ah! Baldrick! Could you look after my 'Greenspeak Dictionary' while I go to Mrs Miggin's Ye Olde Pie Shoppe for a yard of ale?"

Famous last words. Philip.

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