Opinion: Daily Journal

Using the Right Words in the Warming Debate

There is no public policy debate in which the language has been manipulated more than in the case of global warming. In fact, the language has been changed to such an extent that the words being used, when viewed objectively, have little to do with what either the science or the public policy concerns are actually about.

There are three expressions that are now so ingrained as part of the conversation that even skeptics have succumbed to (mis)using them. The use of these terms is part of a propaganda drive meant to mis-educate and distract the public on both the science and policy of global warming. The three terms are climate change, carbon, and emissions.

First and most importantly, the expression used to identify the problem has been subtly changed from the accurate and specific “global warming” to the inaccurate and general “climate change.” From the perspective of the propagandists, this is the most important of the language changes.

The question of whether or not the planet is warming is a factual one that is borne out, or not, by the temperature data. The answer to the global warming question may be yes or no. On the other hand, the answer to the question of whether or not the climate is changing is always yes. The climate has never been unchanging and never will be.

By conflating “global warming” and “climate change,” propagandists like President Obama can refer to people who point to the data to argue that global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 15 years as “flat earthers” and “climate change deniers.” Of course, such accusations would be true if the issue were indeed climate change. But let’s be clear; it is not.

Playing on the fact that most people do not have much knowledge of science, the propagandists actually have started lying about what the problem or perceived problem is. In newspaper articles and reporting on global warming, commentators have substituted carbon, C, for carbon dioxide, CO2. In terms of emissions, the issue is the latter, not the former.

CO2 is the greenhouse gas that is accumulating in the atmosphere and that will presumably warm the planet to intolerable levels. It is CO2 emissions that government policies are meant to reduce. But carbon dioxide is rarely ever mentioned. Instead we hear of “carbon taxes,” “carbon emissions,” and “reducing our carbon footprint.”

There is a propaganda-driven reason for this. Every school child learns (hopefully) that CO2 is an invisible, odorless gas that helps plants and vegetation grow and supports life on earth. CO2 is not scary. On the other hand, carbon suits the propagandists’ purposes much better.

Most people associate carbon with a black, sooty substance that is harmful to inhale and soils everything it comes in contact with. As a negative image, carbon presents a much better target for the shyster ad man than does CO2. So why not drop that inconvenient O2 and just stick with the C? After all, anyone who calls us on it is just a “flat earther” anyway.

To make the trilogy complete, the propagandists have changed the goal of policy from reducing temperatures to reducing emissions. Reducing CO2 emissions is not a goal unto itself. It is a means to an end: reducing global temperatures. But it has reached the point at which this goal is almost never mentioned when discussing actual policies.

The focus is on how much emissions will be reduced, not temperatures. It is no accident that during his recent speech on “climate change,” the president made no mention of what his proposals would accomplish in terms of temperature reduction.

There is a very good reason for this. Temperature reduction as a result of any of the policies that have been discussed, including the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation designed to reduce CO2 emissions by over 80 percent, would be unnoticeable. Using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s own data and methods, the Waxman-Markey plan would have reduced global temperatures relative to what otherwise would occur by 0.2 degrees over the next 100 years.

In other words, a policy that would reduce CO2 emissions to levels last seen in the late 19th century, when most people rode horses and buggies and used kerosene to light their houses, would bring about no noticeable gain in terms of temperature reduction. Once again, it makes sense for the shyster ad man to shift attention away from reducing temperatures, the actual purpose of the policy, and toward reducing “carbon emissions,” which can be measured in terms of thousands of tons.

Honest policy analysts should just say no to this propagandist assault on language. Whenever “climate change” is used instead of “global warming” or “carbon” is used in place of “carbon dioxide,” the person using those terms should be called out and made to explain himself.

When someone starts telling us that a particular policy will reduce emissions by a certain amount, we should immediately refocus the discussion on temperatures. The comeback should always be, “Tell me how much temperatures will be reduced and over what period of time.”

Propagandists, ad men, and magicians always invoke the same technique to perpetrate their illusion — take the audience’s eye off the ball. We will defeat these illusionists if we keep the ball front and center and in plain sight.

Dr. Roy Cordato (@RoyCordato) is Vice President for Research and Resident Scholar at the John Locke Foundation.