Climate Duckspeakers And Relearning The Lessons Of Orwell’s 1984

Tom Harris Executive Director, Climate Science Coalition
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In Oceania, the dystopian society of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a new language was created by the government to control the thinking patterns of the people. Officially labeled “newspeak,” it was the first language that, when fully adopted, was meant to limit the range of human thought. Concepts such as freedom, skepticism, and debate would be virtually unthinkable since no words existed to describe them, aside from the generic term “thoughtcrime.”

Perhaps most insidious was “duckspeak,” a form of speech consisting entirely of words and phrases sanctioned by the party, language that conveyed politically correct messaging only. Someone who had mastered duckspeak could fire off ideologically pure assertions like bullets from a machine gun without thinking at all. Their words merely emanated from the larynx like the quacking of a duck.

Being called a “duckspeaker” was considered a sincere compliment, since it indicated that you were well-versed in the official language and views of the state.

More than ever before, 2014 was the year of climate change duckspeak. Rather than being merely ridiculous or social satire, the underlying purpose of climate duckspeak is ominous: to convince opinion leaders and the public to think about climate change only as the government wants. To consider alternative points of view is “climate change denial,” today’s version of thoughtcrime, punishable by excommunication from responsible citizenry.

In his January 28th State of the Union (SOTU) address, President Barack Obama set the stage for 2014 climate change duckspeakers, reassuring Congress that “the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.”

But, as Carleton University Earth Sciences Professor Tim Patterson points out, “Climate is and always has been variable. The only constant about climate is change; it changes continually.” So Obama’s claim, and that of other opinion leaders who say the same thing, appears to be a self-evident but trivial truth along the lines of ‘sunrise is real.’

But it is much more than that. Intentionally or otherwise, the President is using a strategy right out of Nineteen Eighty-Four. His statement, as used in the SOTU address and his other climate speeches in 2014, implied that experts have recently concluded that unusual climatic events are happening, and that government must save us. Obama always strengthens this perception with dramatic follow-up comments such as in the SOTU address: “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Climate campaigners also use duckspeak when they refer to greenhouse gases (GHG) as “carbon pollution” that must be controlled through “carbon taxes.” This conjures up subconscious images of dark and dangerous emissions of soot, which really is carbon.

What Obama and others are actually referring to is carbon dioxide. But were they to call it that, most people would be unconcerned, remembering from grade school that the trace gas is essential for plant photosynthesis. So climate campaigners mislabel it “carbon” to frighten the public and to discourage further thinking.

Similarly, referring to low carbon dioxide emitting energy sources as clean or green is a mistake since the gas is in no way unclean. But the label promotes an image of environmental wholesomeness, hiding the true ineffective and damaging nature of many alternative energy sources.

Finally, the “97 percent of experts agree” phrase is, using Oceania’s vernacular, “doubleplusgood” duckspeak, designed to suppress debate and boost the party line. After all, who would dare contest experts about such a complicated issue?

But appeals to authority and consensus are logical fallacies that prove nothing about nature. And, even if such surveys were taken seriously, one would have to ask: Do these experts study the causes of climate change? What did they agree to?

In fact, none of the surveys that are used to back up the consensus argument are convincing. They either asked the wrong questions, asked the wrong people, or polled mostly those who would agree with the government’s position.

Independent reports such as those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change show that the science is highly immature with wide-ranging opinions about the future of climate change.

Although first published 65 years ago, Nineteen Eighty-Four is now more relevant than ever. University of Florida linguist M. J. Hardman summed up the important role language plays in societal control when she wrote in her paper Language and War (2002), “language is inseparable from humanity and follows us in all our works. Language is the instrument with which we form thought and feeling, mood, aspiration, will and act[ion], the instrument by whose means we influence and are influenced.”

2015 must be the year we finally heed Orwell’s warning and fight back against the duckspeak distorting the climate debate.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (www.ClimateScienceInternational.org).