As everyone knows, the language of climate change is constantly evolving. The Guardian is proud to be at the vanguard of those upping the ante by promoting the use of more extreme terminology around the issue. It is around three years since the Guardian publicly announced that its journalists were under instruction to change the language they used when writing about the issue. They returned to the theme more than once and an articlei (on 16th October 2019) summarised them for the umpteenth time. Of the six changes then announced, three in particular appear to have had a profound impact in terms of changing the parameters of the debate, with the language urged by the Guardian being gleefully picked up by much of the mainstream media. The first, and possibly most important, change, was:

climate emergency” or “climate crisis” to be used instead of “climate change”

In this context we were told:

Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation; use climate emergency or climate crisis instead to describe the broader impact of climate change. However, use climate breakdown or climate change or global heating when describing it specifically in a scientific or geophysical sense eg “Scientists say climate breakdown has led to an increase in the intensity of hurricanes”.

We are not told by whom “climate change” is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation. By scientists? By the Guardian editorial team? The failure to elucidate the thinking behind the decision speaks volumes to me. Despite the attempt to dress it up as a scientific decision, it looks like a political and campaigning decision. If I’m right, then fair play to them – it’s worked big style.

climate science denier” or “climate denier” to be used instead of “climate sceptic”

This was the second of the six changes. It really ought to be very controversial, especially given the smear associated with the use of the word “denier”, and the widespread use of the phrase “Holocaust denial”. Intentionally or not, the use of the phrase “climate denier” has had the effect of denigrating those who question the narrative. And it’s pretty inaccurate too. Who among the sceptic community denies “climate” or “climate science”. Not I, and I suspect not you either, dear reader. However, seek to request a cost-benefit analysis of “net zero” policies, or challenge any part of the narrative of Apocalyptic hysteria surrounding climate change, and you can expect pretty quickly to be labelled (smeared would be a better word) as a “climate denier” (however nonsensical that form of words is). The Guardian’s explanation for the change in the use of language doesn’t come close to cutting the mustard, so far as I am concerned:

The OED defines a sceptic as “a seeker of the truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions”. Most “climate sceptics”, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny climate change is happening, or is caused by human activity, so ‘denier’ is more accurate.

I wonder just how many sceptics they spoke to at length to enable them to arrive at that rather smug (and inaccurate) conclusion? The third change of language is:

Use “global heating” not “global warming”

The justification offered up for this change is also dubious:

Global heating’ is more scientifically accurate. Greenhouse gases form an atmospheric blanket that stops the sun’s heat escaping back to space.

Perhaps they should once more have consulted the OED, which defines “warm” as “of or at a comfortably high temperature” and “heat” as being “the quality of being hot; high temperature”, with “warming” and “heating” being derivatives of those terms. I am not sure where the scientific accuracy arises in deciding whether temperatures are high or comfortably high. The phrase “[g]reenhouse gases form an atmospheric blanket that stops the sun’s heat escaping back to space” could just as easily and accurately be rephrased as “[g]reenhouse gases form an atmospheric blanket that stops the sun’s warmth escaping back to space”.

In June 2019 the Guardian’s readers’ editor, Paul Chadwick, had already rather undermined the claims that the new language was being used because it was scientifically more accurate, when he wroteii:

I support Viner’s direction of travel. She is harnessing the power of language usage to focus minds on an urgent global issue. One challenge for the Guardian and the Observer will be to weigh, in specific journalistic contexts, two sometimes competing aspects of terminology used in public debates: language as description, and language as exhortation.

Carbon Bombs

Recent Guardian reporting has, seemingly unannounced, upped the ante once more. Over the last few days I have seen several articles referring to “carbon bombs”. For now the Guardian is putting the phrase in inverted commas, as though recognising that it’s not really a meaningful form of words at all, and is instead a phrase that someone has made up in an apparently unscientific way, with a view once more to using language as exhortation.

On 11th May 2022 an articleiii appeared with the rather dramatic headline: “Revealed: the ‘carbon bombs’ set to trigger catastrophic climate breakdown”. Please do read the article for yourselves – it’s all there. The sub-heading was equally dramatic: “Exclusive:Oil and gas majors are planning scores of vast projects that threaten to shatter the 1.5C climate goal. If governments do not act, these firms will continue to cash in as the world burns”. I don’t deny that there have been a lot of wildfires lately, though as a sceptic – not a denier – I would query the extent that this is down to climate change.After all, a Guardian “long read” article on 3rd February 2022iv told us that:

Satellites allow researchers to monitor wildfires around the world. And when they do, they don’t see a planet igniting. Rather, they see one where fires are going out, and quickly. Fire has a long and productive place in human history, but there’s now less of it around than at any point since antiquity. We’re driving fire from the land and from our daily lives, where it was once a constant presence…

…Thus far, the raised temperatures haven’t resulted in more fire overall; the global trend is still downward…

So, “carbon bombs”?; “as the world burns”? Scientific language, or exhortatory? My money’s on the latter, especially as the Guardian followed up on the following day with an articlev headlined: “Climate chaos certain if oil and gas mega-projects go ahead, warns IEA chief – Fatih Birol says ‘carbon bombs’, revealed in Guardian investigation, will not solve global energy crisis”.

Read the article, however, and you do not find Fatih Birol referring to “carbon bombs”. Those words appear, at least from the way the story is reported, to be used by the Guardian and not by the IEA or by Mr Birol.

Clearly feeling that the whole bomb thing still needed a bit of a push, we saw an editorialvi in the Guardian on the same day, headlined: “The Guardian view on carbon bombs: governments must say no”.

Science or exhortation?

It is long past time to admit that our global energy system is itself a bomb. Unchecked greed is driving us ever closer to the abyss. Both separately and together, governments must find ways to promote the long-term health of the planet over short-term profit. There is no alternative but to force companies to write off the most dangerous investments. Of course, this will cause an economic shock, but advances in renewables mean there are options other than carbon addiction. Total emissions must fall by half by 2030, if the worst scenarios are to be avoided. To continue on our current course would be nihilistic. The carbon bomb-makers must be stopped.

A couple of days later and Fiona Harvey was writing about COP27vii, with this “understated” headline: “‘This is about survival’: will Cop27 bring action on Glasgow climate pact?”. In the course of a long and alarmist article, I didn’t actually find any reference to “carbon bombs”, but I did find what I consider to be a rather distasteful turn of phrase, given events in Ukraine:

But the pace and brutality of the geopolitical changes since mid-November have been to a climate deal on life support like a cluster bomb dropped on a hospital.

And so we find the language becoming ever more extreme. Will it ever stop? Will it ever, at least, moderate? Or are we destined to find our blood being chilled by increasingly desperate language?

Conclusion

Despite the recent flurry of Guardian articles talking about “carbon bombs”, it seems that what is going on here is the resurrection of an old term that they have run with before, but which didn’t catch on at the time. Back in 2015 there was a pieceviii on the Guardian website which purported to define carbon bombs as being:

Gigantic coal, oil and gas projects from around the world that, if they go ahead, will raise global emissions and cause dangerous climate change.

I assume that given the failure of COP26 and the wholesale turn back to fossil fuels in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Guardian has felt it necessary to re-visit the dramatic phrase, and dust it down in order to crank things up again. And it may be working. Even the Daily Mail has an online articleix this week with the heading: “Gazprom, BP, Shell and other fossil fuel firms are quietly planning almost 200 ‘carbon bomb’ oil and gas projects that could doom efforts to limit global warming to 2.7°F, investigation reveals“. If even the Daily Mail has picked up on the use of this language, then it would appear to be gaining traction. How long before “carbon bombs” are mainstream and are referenced daily on BBC radio, TV and website? Not long, I’d wager.

Endnotes

i https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/16/guardian-language-changes-climate-environment

ii https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/16/urgency-climate-crisis-robust-new-language-guardian-katharine-viner

iii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2022/may/11/fossil-fuel-carbon-bombs-climate-breakdown-oil-gas

iv https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/03/a-deranged-pyroscape-how-fires-across-the-world-have-grown-weirder

v https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/12/oil-gas-mega-projects-climate-iea-fatih-birol-carbon-bombs-global-energy-crisis-fossil-fuel

vi https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/12/the-guardian-view-on-carbon-bombs-governments-must-say-no

vii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/14/this-is-about-survival-will-cop27-bring-action-on-glasgow-climate-pact

viii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/series/carbon-bombs

ix https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10809079/Fossil-fuel-firms-quietly-planning-200-carbon-bomb-oil-gas-projects.html

22 Comments

  1. What’s in a word? Just a matter of who will be master,
    that’s all.

    And say, what could be wrong about ‘harnessing the power
    of language usage to focus on what you surmise is an
    urgent global issue?’ Using language to bewitch is a
    common practise in drama and poetry, just not usual
    in traditional science methodology.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s just the same old ad-speak we’ve seen so many times before:

    Daz -> New Daz -> Improved Daz -> Improved New Daz -> etc, etc.

    Maybe it’s time to start labelling any the Grauniad says about climate as ‘Fantasy’.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bill,

    It’s all about the narrative, and narrative thrives on good adjectives and engaging metaphor.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When you are blowing the notes of a crazy-ass apocalyptic delusion through your kazoo, the last thing you need is people who aren’t rocking along.

    Every scrap of opposition flows from scepticism. Why would I sign on to your brutal self-destructive schemes, unless I believe that the alternative is worse?

    No amount of hectoring will crack the sceptic. Data might. But so far the data is hardly benefiting the cult’s narrative. Carbon bomb indeed. We’re in more danger from the bomb of stupid that seems explode more potently with every spin of Earth on its axis.

    As for that simile from Harvey, it is disgraceful. And if she thinks for one moment that such language will actually sway any of the fence-sitters (deniers a lost cause), then I think I lately scraped a lump of something from the sole of my trainer that was in possession of a more accurate understanding of the world.

    In research for a script about George Holyoake years back (for a competition; my effort did not trouble the scorers – pdf available for the interested reader) I came across a fire and brimstone sermon given by Rev. C. H. Spurgeon in 1855. Its target was unbelief. A brief and striking excerpt:

    Oh! sirs believe me, could ye roll all sins into one mass,—could you take murder, and blasphemy, and lust, adultery, and fornication, and everything that is vile and unite them all into one vast globe of black corruption, they would not equal even then the sin of unbelief. This is the monarch sin, the quintessence of guilt; the mixture of the venom of all crimes; the dregs of the wine of Gomorrah; it is the A1 sin, the master-piece of Satan, the chief work of the devil.

    The evolution of rhetoric is a natural consequence of the “threat” being generally ignored.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. We were listening to Radio 3 whilst driving to Scotland a little over a week ago. The guest on Jess Gilliam’s show was German harpist Magdalena Hoffman who started to rattle on about the climate ‘catastrophe’….at which point the radio was turned off!
    Anyway, a very pleasant week was had in Comrie with Spring bursting forth, the bluebells in Trowan Woods were spectacular, the dawn chorus chirped away merrily at some unholy hour, red squirrels were aplenty, the first cuckoos, swallows and house martins made their way back from Africa. Some Catastrophe!
    William Wordsworth wrote the line in Tintern Abbey ‘nature never did betray the heart that loved her’. I do so wish that environmentalists, climate protesters and so on would just go out and spend some time in nature. Sure, we can all do much to improve the world we live in but I don’t think the world is a truly catastrophic state just yet and there is still much beauty to marvel at.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. “We are not told by whom “climate change” is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation. By scientists? By the Guardian editorial team? The failure to elucidate the thinking behind the decision speaks volumes to me. Despite the attempt to dress it up as a scientific decision, it looks like a political and campaigning decision. If I’m right, then fair play to them – it’s worked big style.”

    Of course you’re right Mark, no less than the IPCC confirms it!

    A word search of AR6 WG1 Climate Change 2021 “The Physical Science Basis” contains not a single reference to a “climate crisis’ by any of the contributing authors or climate scientists in its 3,949 pages.

    However, the document “Section 1.2.3.4 Media coverage of climate change” confirms that the phrase “climate crisis” is a
    media fabrication.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So the interesting thing is how the climate fear mind virus spreads and worsens. I believe, as I watch rational society succumb, that the climate virus was a sort of benign ubiquitous thing: a well documented cycling between concerns of too hot/cold/wet/dry into a pathology. But now we are self-destructiveky approaching nearly every piblic issue the same way. What Graunian is doing openly evil obvious mind control and deception. They are anti-informing, dehumanizing both their readers and the targets of their manipulation. The US Federal Reserve chairman, a pathetic aparatchik named Yelin, just announced that the banks are so infected with the climate pathology that they are goingvto destroy their portfolios of energy investments by writing them down. No wonder Russia and Chiina are slow walking their part of ww3. Why hurry up when the intended victims are killing themselves for you?Climate, energy, covid, gender, immigration, “woke”, race, tolerance: all full fledged social cancers hitting all at once

    Like

  8. Mark

    Actually, the phrase “[g]reenhouse gases form an atmospheric blanket that stops the sun’s heat escaping back to space” could just as easily and even more accurately be rephrased as “[g]reenhouse gases form an atmospheric blanket that prevents the earth from freezing”. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  9. It seems the phrase is now to be embedded in Guardian reporting of climate change and related issues, along with its continued campaigning to shut down fossil fuel use. Goodness knows how they think life as we know it will continue.

    “Shut down fossil fuel production sites early to avoid climate chaos, says study
    Exclusive: Nearly half existing facilities will need to close prematurely to limit heating to 1.5C, scientists say”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/17/shut-down-fossil-fuel-production-sites-early-to-avoid-climate-chaos-says-study

    “Nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C, the internationally agreed goal for avoiding climate catastrophe, according to a new scientific study.

    The assessment goes beyond the call by the International Energy Agency in 2021 to stop all new fossil fuel development to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, a statement seen as radical at the time.

    The new research reaches its starker conclusion by not assuming that new technologies will be able to suck huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for the burning of coal, oil and gas. Experts said relying on such technologies was a risky gamble.

    The Guardian revealed last week that 195 oil and gas “carbon bombs” are planned by the industry. This means projects that would each produce at least 1bn tonnes of CO2. Together, these carbon bombs alone would drive global heating beyond the 1.5C limit. But the dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m (£81m) a day until 2030 on climate-busting schemes….”.

    Like

  10. Even worse, the so-called ‘bombing’ in Ukraine is in danger of distracting us from dealing with these very real carbon bombs. And if they start dropping nuclear ‘bombs’ what a distraction that might be!

    Like

  11. Now Guardian letters have picked it up:

    “‘Carbon bomb’ makers are putting all our lives at risk”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/19/fossil-fuel-based-industries-are-a-threat-to-human-rights

    “…This linkage between climate change and human rights is a major step towards acknowledging that fossil-fuel-based industries are a significant threat to human rights. It offers a basis for mass legal challenges against the purveyors of carbon bombs. Sadly, the UK and other governments don’t see it this way and continue to subsidise such projects. In this, they may well be complicit in mass violations of human rights. Uncontrolled fossil fuel investment should be seen as a direct threat to the human right to life, and the law should impose severe financial penalties on firms and governments that continue to invest in carbon bomb projects.

    Unfortunately, the English courts have yet to respond, having thrown out a recent case challenging UK oil regulators’ practices that effectively subsidise further oil and gas investments in the North Sea.
    Peter Muchlinski
    Emeritus professor of law, Soas University of London”

    Also:

    “…Unfortunately, democratically elected governments do not control access to the earth’s resources. The world’s playbook for energy transition is a rapid scale-up of clean energy and a transformational change in energy efficiency. It is perfectly within the control of governments and regulators to accelerate both these critical trends. Doing so will send the market the signals required, and then the fear of stranded carbon bomb assets will make them unfinanceable.
    Andy Bradley
    Director, Delta-EE”

    Like

  12. had to google “Delta-EE”

    they sound good at what they do, one snippet from the website –

    “We are a diverse team made up of statisticians,
    commercial directors, data analysts, policy experts,
    blockchain specialists, customer insight experts,
    economists, social scientists, thought leaders,
    environmentalists, marketers, energy managers,
    business developers, chemists, physicists,
    technologists, industry leaders, geoscientists,
    mathematicians, modellers, sustainability
    practitioners, carbon managers, product managers,
    and engineers.
    50% of our staff are women. We represent 14
    nationalities. We speak 16 different languages.
    We are all passionate about the energy
    transition”

    think they oversell on that bit, maybe !!!

    Like

  13. The ante is still being upped:

    “Environmentalists join forces to fight ‘carbon bomb’ fossil fuel projects
    Coalition of lawyers, journalists and campaigners challenge climate-busting mega projects exposed in Guardian investigation”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/06/environmentalists-carbon-bomb-fossil-fuel-projects-coalition

    “A coalition of environmental lawyers, investigative journalists and campaigners has launched a group to challenge the “carbon bomb” fossil fuel projects revealed in a Guardian investigation.

    After a meeting in May, more than 70 NGOs and activist groups from around the world have formed a “carbon bomb defusal” network to share expertise and resources in the fight to halt the projects and prevent the catastrophic climate breakdown they would cause.

    The Guardian investigation identified 195 carbon bombs, gigantic oil and gas projects that would each result in at least a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions. About 60% of these have started pumping.

    The US is the leading source of emissions from these mega projects, with its 22 carbon bombs spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado to the Permian Basin. Together they have the potential to emit 140bn tonnes of CO2, almost four times more than the entire world emits each year.

    Saudi Arabia is the second biggest potential emitter after the US, with 107bn tonnes, followed by Russia, Qatar, Iraq, Canada, China and Brazil.

    The new campaigning network aims to coordinate legal challenges and activist campaigns against these projects and the companies and politicians supporting them.”

    Like

  14. “climate-busting”

    Once the climate is bust, presumably, we won’t be able to use it. It will be an ex-climate. It will be no more, it will have ceased to be, it will have expired and gone to meet its maker.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Next:

    “Funding needed for climate disasters has risen ‘more than 800%’ in 20 years
    Only about half the funds required are being provided by rich countries, according to a report by Oxfam”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/07/funding-needed-for-climate-disasters-has-risen-more-than-800-in-20-years

    800% in 20 years? I don’t believe you. There would be an article in that if I had time to dig deeper, but I’m already deep in writing “Reasons To Be Sceptical”, and have another one up my sleeve after that.

    Meanwhile, how’s this also (from the same article) for upping the ante?

    “Asad Rehman, the director of War on Want, added that the report showed “the brutal reality of a climate apartheid that is unfolding before our eyes”.

    “Rich countries are committing arson on a planetary scale and refusing to stop pouring more oil and gas on the fire they started. But when faced with the bill for the damage they have caused they claim to have empty pockets,” he said. “It’s a deadly response shaped by a colonial mentality that for 500 years inflicted injustice and inequity, with the lives of those with black or brown skins in poorer countries deemed less valuable to those of western citizens.””

    Climate apartheid and arson now!

    Like

  16. The planet is literally going to split into two separate hemispheres, orbiting the Sun in different and dangerous ways, if we don’t reduce our CO2 emissions immediately. That’s what science is telling us. And when you lose sight of your grandma, spinning on the other hemisphere, what will you say then? Buy that electric car NOW.

    Sorry, I now see that story was embargoed by the Guardian Climate Crisis team for tomorrow. My mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It’s gaining traction – among Guardian readers, at least:

    “We must join forces to defuse ‘carbon bombs’
    Charles Secrett says exposing those behind these disastrous fossil fuel projects and drawing the public into the fight are essential to prevent runaway global heating”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/08/we-must-join-forces-to-defuse-carbon-bombs

    “It is great news that a global coalition of activists and experts is to confront the governments and corporations responsible for the mega-carbon projects, recently exposed by the Guardian, that threaten life on Earth (Environmentalists join forces to fight ‘carbon’ bomb fossil fuel projects, 6 June).

    Exposing the politicians and executives behind these madcap schemes, challenging them in court, organising shareholder and investor rebellions, and running activist campaigns to draw the wider public into the fight are essential measures if we are to avoid irreversible, runaway global heating.

    But in the UK, and elsewhere, we need much stronger climate and nature protection laws to stand the best chance of winning. We also need tax and subsidy systems that reward emissions reductions and penalise the polluters.

    I hope that the coalition will back Zero Hour’s campaign to persuade parliament to pass the climate and ecology bill, which would legally ensure that corporations rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and reverse the destruction of nature….”.

    Unfortunately, “renewable” energy “solutions” also destroy nature. People need to wake up to that fact.

    Like

  18. It would appear that it’s not just the Guardian that uses exaggerated language:

    “Fossil fuel firms ‘have humanity by the throat’, says UN head in blistering attack
    António Guterres compares climate inaction to tobacco firms dismissing links between smoking and cancer”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/17/fossil-fuel-firms-un-head-antonio-guterres-blistering-attack

    “Fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them “have humanity by the throat”, the UN secretary general has said, in a “blistering” attack on the industry and its backers, who are pulling in record profits amid energy prices sent soaring by the Ukraine war.

    António Guterres compared fossil fuel companies to the tobacco companies that continued to push their addictive products while concealing or attacking health advice that showed clear links between smoking and cancer, the first time he has drawn such a parallel.

    He said: “We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in pseudoscience and public relations – with a false narrative to minimise their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies.

    “They exploited precisely the same scandalous tactics as big tobacco decades before. Like tobacco interests, fossil fuel interests and their financial accomplices must not escape responsibility.”

    Speaking to the Major Economies Forum, a climate conference organised by the White House, Guterres also castigated governments that are failing to rein in fossil fuels, and in many cases seeking increased production of gas, oil and even coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

    He said: “Nothing could be more clear or present than the danger of fossil fuel expansion. Even in the short-term, fossil fuels don’t make political or economic sense.””

    Even in the short term? I beg to differ.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.