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Climate Change Language Creating Its Own Chaos

Though climate change is serious, the language of fear and chaos is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, generating needless fear for the sake of controlling political agendas.

So claims one of Britain's top climate scientists in the BBC's report, "Chaotic world of climate truth."

He asks: 'Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science's predictions?'

He cites three reasons for conflating climate crisis with catastrophe: first, 'the discourse of catastrophe is a campaigning device being mobilised in the context of failing UK and Kyoto Protocol targets to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.' Second, ' Second, the discourse of catastrophe is a political and rhetorical device to change the frame of reference for the emerging negotiations around what happens when the Kyoto Protocol runs out after 2012.' Third, 'the discourse of catastrophe allows some space for the retrenchment of science budgets.'

The scientist is Mike Hulme, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

He likens the use of 'fear and terror' in the discourse around climate change to the use of similar tactics in order to sell the Iraqi war to the American people, and to the world.

John Mack, noted psychiatrist who pioneered clinical exploration of patients who had been traumatized by abduction experiences, also was a keen observer of the political use of fear and terror. Dr. Mack astutely noted that for the first time in history, fear was being color-coded with terror alerts: in other words, people were being told what level of anxiety was politically acceptable (and prescribed).

(For impressions of Dr. John Mack and his work, see John E. Mack: A Tribute).

Professor Hulme argues that although must take climate change seriously and find solutions, the penchant for exaggeration, in order to get media attention, is dangerous.

He may be on to something: and there might be a relationships between multi-tasking and over-dramatizing. News comes off more and more as entertainment; newscasters appear to work hard to maintain emotional neutrality, even while reporting horrors; and even if they maintain emotional integrity, the screen cuts so quickly from scene to scene, or to a commercial, that it becomes increasingly difficult to stay grounded with one's feelings in any story.

Recently, I saw a three-second clip (or was it two seconds) about snipers in Iraq, showing a solider felled by a bullet. Was it right to watch someone's death in that way? And suddenly ... fried chicken, or whatever comes next on the tube. Reason enough to limit news-watching.

Professor Hulme's giant caveat injects a dose of responsibility into current environmental discussions. Climate change is not entertainment, and politicians like scientists must find the courage to use language responsibly, even when characterizing worst-case scenarios for planet Earth.

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