Words matter. They’ve always mattered. But right now, in a world dominated by big existential issues, the use and misuse of language on social media, the internet, and all media platforms globally has never been so important. What we say to each other, what words we use to say it, and who else we say it to can cause great harm on both a personal and a public level. Or it can help clarify what we’re actually facing in the real world of life, death, bodies and minds, whether public or private. The world of reality. Postmodernist writers like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler have always known this. Words or discourse create power. They are power. Power acts on every level, from the privacy of our dreams and the creation of our selves, to the alteration of the entire world. The discourse of Humanism and the Enlightenment – of human rights, democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law – promised a revolutionary new way of being human on this planet. It did partly keep that promise. Discourse as ideology has to have some basis in reality, or it will become irrelevant. Words can’t just be tools of the powerful.
As EP Thompson said about the rule of law in his classic work on 18th century justice Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Acts (Breviary Stuff Publications, 2013, p.410):
If the law is evidently partial and unjust, then it will mask nothing, legitimize nothing, contribute nothing to any class’s hegemony. The essential precondition for the effectiveness of law, in its function as ideology, is that it shall display an independence from gross manipulation and shall seem to be just. It cannot seem to be so without upholding its own logic and criteria of equity; indeed, on occasion, by actually being just. And furthermore it is not often the case that a ruling ideology can be dismissed as a mere hypocrisy; even rulers find a need to legitimize their power, to moralize their functions, to feel themselves to be useful and just. In the case of an ancient historical formation like the law, a discipline which requires years of exacting study to master, there will always be some men (and perhaps women?) who actively believe in their own procedures and in the logic of justice. The law may be rhetoric, but it need not be empty rhetoric. . . .
But we can’t escape the evidence of our own senses. What that discourse of rights and freedoms has delivered after 250 years of struggle, defeat, and too many compromised victories is a global system of obscene levels of capital accumulation, unregulated “free” markets, and the consequent destruction and impoverishment of the natural world and a majority of the world’s people who live in it. That world doesn’t just depend on the ruthless take over of a planet and it’s living inhabitants, including humans, out of which those capitalist and colonial revolutions of 1776 and following were created. Our world – the one we’re living in right now – also depends on the words we use to describe it; to tell the stories of what it is, how it was created (by whom and for whom), and where it is going. The truth of those stories, and the power they’re hiding, can often be found in the silences. In the “gaps” and the erasures. The stories we don’t tell, the words we don’t hear, or refuse to hear. What liberal Enlightenment doesn’t say. What words postmodernist neo-liberals refuse to acknowledge, and the real connection those words have to reality.
Greta Thunberg Remember her? That Swedish girl who caught widespread media attention just three years ago, first in her native Sweden, then on a world stage. “On 20 August 2018, Thunberg, who had just started ninth grade, decided not to attend school until the 2018 Swedish general election on 9 September; her protest began after the heat waves and wildfires during Sweden’s hottest summer in at least 262 years. Her demands were that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and she protested by sitting outside the Riksdag every day for three weeks during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate).”
You probably haven’t noticed recently, but those school strikes have expanded globally and are still happening. On January 25, 2019 she gave the following speech (as quoted in The Guardian):
Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.
According to the IPCC we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%.
And please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work on a global scale. Nor does it include tipping points or feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing Arctic permafrost.Teenage activist takes School Strikes 4 Climate Action to Davos.
At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed. All political movements in their present form have done so, and the media has failed to create broad public awareness.
But Homo sapiens have not yet failed.
Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.
We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people. And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly.
Solving the climate crisis is the greatest and most complex challenge that Homo sapiens have ever faced. The main solution, however, is so simple that even a small child can understand it. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Either we do that or we don’t.
You say nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t.
Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.
We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail.
That is up to you and me. . . .
Some say we should not engage in activism. Instead we should leave everything to our politicians and just vote for a change instead. But what do we do when there is no political will? What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?
Here in Davos – just like everywhere else – everyone is talking about money. It seems money and growth are our only main concerns.
And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today.
No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide, public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budget, that should and must become our new global currency and the very heart of our future and present economics.I’m striking from school to protest inaction on climate change – you should too | Greta Thunberg.
We are at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilisation – and the entire biosphere – must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.
We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.
Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.
I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.
This is not language designed to obfusticate or obscure. This is not the language of the powerful. It is not even about law. These words were spoken by a young girl – one of the most marginalized groups in the world – TO the powerful, on a global stage where all could hear. They were spoken in English, which is not this girl’s first language. But English is now the language of power so it is the language we must use to be heard. Other girls, other children, also began to speak. They were not heard the way Greta was, but they couldn’t be silenced any more either. Here is Autumn Pelletier, an Anishinaabe girl from the Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada speaking to the United Nations in September, 2019.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: we can’t eat money or drink oil. . . .
All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water. Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?
Watch Autumn Peltier speak at the UN:
Maybe, we need to have more elders and youth together sitting at the decision table when people make decisions about our lands and waters.
“Peltier called for an end to plastic use as one step in restoring a more sustainable world.
Her speech comes a day after huge crowds took to the streets in Canada as part of a global climate strike.
The speech was her second at the UN headquarters, having urged the General Assembly to “warrior up” and take a stand for our planet last year.”
Greta and Autumn were not the only children speaking up clearly and forcefully to world leaders in language they could understand. And these powerful words led to more words of power by more familiar sources of discourse – those same world leaders. Here is what Greta had to say about that just yesterday, a few weeks before those same world leaders will meet in Glasgow for the 26th Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention of 1992 (COP26):
There is no Planet B, there is no planet blah, blah, blah.
“Echoing a speech by COP26 summit host Boris Johnson in April, she continued:”
This is not about some expensive politically correct dream of bunny hugging, or build back better, blah blah blah, green economy, blah blah blah, net zero by 2050, blah blah blah, climate neutral blah blah blah.
This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: words, words that sound great but so far have led to no action, our hopes and dreams drowned in their empty words and promises.
“Ugandan youth activist Vanessa Nakate echoed Ms Thunberg’s exasperation at leaders’ lack of urgency.”
How long must children sleep hungry because their farms have been washed away, because their crops have been dried up because of the extreme weather conditions?
How long are we to watch them die of thirst and gasp for air in the floods? World leaders watch this happen and allow this to continue.
It’s not just greenhouse gases that are the problem, but the “blah, blah, blah” of hot air constantly expelled by world leaders on this and many other topics. It can’t be that they’re not aware. More words of power were published nearly two months ago stating unequivocally that “time’s up”. The first part of the IPCC’s 6th Report was released in early August of this year. This is the discourse of science; the rational language of the Enlightenment itself; the words of Galileo, of Newton, of the spokesmen for reality that is the basis of our humanist liberal civilization. Science and law are in many ways the twin pillars of rational humanism, just as religion and monarch used to be, at least in Europe. The language of this Report (already a compromise picked over by the representatives of nearly 200 governments) is uncharacteristically clear and even forceful – a departure from previous reports:.
A. The Current State of the Climate
A.1 It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have
A.2 The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many
thousands of years.
A.3 Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as
heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
A.4 Improved knowledge of climate processes, paleoclimate evidence and the response of the climate system to increasing radiative forcing gives a best estimate of equilibrium climate
sensitivity of 3°C, with a narrower range compared to AR5.
B. Possible Climate Futures
B.1 Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded
during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.
B.2 Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global
warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions,
and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.
B.3 Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including
its variability, global monsoon precipitation and the severity of wet and dry events.
B.4 Under scenarios with increasing CO2 emissions, the ocean and land carbon sinks are projected to be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.
B.5 Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.
C. Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation
C.1 Natural drivers and internal variability will modulate human-caused changes, especially at
regional scales and in the near term, with little effect on centennial global warming. These modulations are important to consider in planning for the full range of possible changes.
C.2 With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience
concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and
even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.
C.3 Low-likelihood outcomes, such as ice sheet collapse, abrupt ocean circulation changes, some compound extreme events and warming substantially larger than the assessed very likely range of future warming cannot be ruled out and are part of risk assessment.
D. Limiting Future Climate Change
D.1 From a physical science perspective, limiting human-induced global warming to a specific
level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions. Strong, rapid
and sustained reductions in CH4 (methane) emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting
from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality. . . .
There can be very little doubt about what any of this means.
Part 2 to follow ….