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.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Canada starts to change the "upholstery buttons".....

It was the Freudian psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan (1901 - 1981), who argued that the way a society thinks is governed above all by what he termed the points de capiton, the "upholstery buttons". These fix the fabric of current hegemonic meaning onto the structure of our signs, or language, just like the buttons which attach the leather covering to a chair or settee. Points de capiton represent the key signifiers, or dominant language, defining an entity, or '-ism', like Marxism. Ultimately, they comprise both a mythic language for that '-ism', as well as a metalanguage, the overarching set of language controls that govern everything written, spoken, drawn, or acted upon with regard to 'the idea'. Points de capiton thus determine both the content and the meaning of the entity, or '-ism'. In many instances, a master, or key, signifier is ultimately 'sealed' into the discourse by a range of such Words of Power (magic words).

For 'Environmentalism' (with a capital 'E'), one such key point de capiton is unquestionably 'sustainable/sustainability'. An empty, Humpty Dumpty word per se (see my blog of April 17: The unsustainability of 'sustainability'), but, nevertheless, a magic Word of Power sealing 'Environmentalism' into the common discourse of government, industry, education, and daily language. To overthrow any oppressive discourse, such as 'Environmentalism', it is thus vital to undo the "upholstery buttons" and to replace them with alternative, more liberating Words of Power.

I am thus delighted to read that the new Canadian government may be doing precisely this. According to The Hill Times (May 15), '"Sustainable development" becomes "responsible development" at NRCan':
"PMO and Environment Canada spokespersons say they know nothing about it, but change in terminology is under way at Natural Resources Canada.

Natural Resources Canada is now using the phrase 'responsible development' in place of 'sustainable development,' The Hill Times has learned, drawing intense criticism from at least one environmental advocate who says the federal department appears to be trying to 'stamp out' an environmental word. [my italic]

Emma Welford, communications director for Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn (Saanich-Gulf Islands, BC), acknowledged the decision to use 'responsible development' in place of 'sustainable development' at Natural Resources Canada, and said it reflects the new Conservative government in power, but she added that it is independent of the government's work on a yet-to-be released 'made in Canada' climate change plan.

'I think when you look at the development of natural resources, everyone wants to make sure that there's all sorts of benefits. There's lots of responsibilities that come with that, the protection of the environment, ecosystems, as well as efficient and effective management of those resources. It's not different, it's just a bit clearer, and real language that actually means something,' Ms. Welford said. 'It's nothing to get too excited about.....'"

There I disagree, Ms Welford. This alters the key Word of Power, and didn't that poor "environmental advocate" recognise at once the deepness of the threat to 'Environmentalism'?

Well done Canada, say I. The way to undermine any '-ism' is to replace its Words of Power. This is far more effective than any scientific, economic, or political wrangling. It changes the very paradigm, and such word replacement often indicates that a paradigm is beginning to enter a crisis phase.

Moreover, as The Globe and Mail (May 20) reports: 'Ottawa now wants Kyoto deal scrapped.' The two go hand-in-hand:
..... Canada will not support attempts by other countries to set deeper emission-reduction targets for the Kyoto Protocol's second phase, according to private instructions to Canadian negotiators in Bonn, Germany.

The instructions obtained by The Globe and Mail also show that Canada wants the climate-change accord phased out in favour of a separate, voluntary deal....."

To my knowledge, this is the first governmental challenge to a key 'Environmentalist' Word of Power 'upholstered' onto the world at the Rio Conference in 1992. No wonder the Greens are going ape. The paradigm is showing the first signs of shifting..... Just watch those words.

Interestingly, of course, Australia may soon follow suit, as Canada leaves Kyotodom to join the new Asia-Pacific Pact on climate: 'Goodbye Kyoto, hello Asia-Pacific Partnership' (CBC News Online, 19 May) and 'Canada set to join climate pact' (The Australian, May 22).

The plate tectonics of climate-change politics are on the move.

My own preference, by the way, would be for 'flexible development', accepting change, and the need to adapt to insistent change, as the norm, but then I am but a mere academic observer of changing paradigms.

Philip, deconstructing is such fun. I shall enjoy my coffee this morning. Might even have a banana as a treat. My way of going ape.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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