It is a truth universally acknowledged that human industrialization has lead to the overzealous production of greenhouse gases that have caused massive, irreversible damage to our planet, causing global temperatures to rise at unprecedented rates, threatening humanity with a greater risk of disease and death from freak weather, ecological disasters, food shortages, and more.
But we know this. We’ve known this for a while—pretty much as long as we’ve known that climate change is real. In fact, the only reason we use the term “climate change” is because of the GOP.
“The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity,” explained a Republican Party memo in 2002, as they planned their campaign for Bush’s re-election. “Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
And in that very same memo, they express a preference for the phrasing of “climate change,” because it’s more benign than “global warming.”
While “global warming” may be more scientifically accurate, it also opens up the eye-roll-inducing criticisms of the Mr. Gotcha-types that yes, there is still snow, and yes, a polar vortex happens sometimes. But what do we gain by using “climate change” instead? We’re still faced with Mr. Gotcha saying “Ah, but the climate’s always changing!” (which may technically be true but is still a wildly simplistic mischaracterization of the actual global climate throughout history)
So why do we continue to let the GOP dictate the terms of the debate, when we have the paper trail that shows their deception?
The Republican Party has always had a knack for linguistic control. And those on the wide swathe of the Left are much more likely to be accommodating to that. We seek accuracy in description and inclusivity in our terminology, because we understand how language influences how we think, and we are constantly striving towards a better world.
But the GOP understands the power of words, too. And they know that the simplest, most reductive phrasings tend to be the catchiest (this is where Donald Trump in particular excels). So they put the words or phrases out there, and repeat them—“Build the wall!” “Crooked Hillary!” “Good guy with a gun!” “Political correctness!”—until they’ve drilled their way into our heads, and the rest of us are forced to stoop to their language in any hopes of ever having a good faith conversation that’s on-the-level and productive.
Except: that’s not a good faith conversation, is it? If two parties—as in “persons” or “groups,” not necessarily political—are trying to engage with one another, both parties should be willing to compromise. You meet in the middle to begin the discussion, wherever it might take you. “If you give me X, I’ll give you Y, then we can figure out Z.”
And that’s the vicious brilliance of the GOP’s strategy. They know that liberals and progressives and others are willing to compromise, to accommodate. And they take advantage of that, without offering the same concessions back.
We say “Global warming is a problem” and they say “Ah-ah-ah, you mean climate change.”
So we say “Fine, climate change is a problem. So now — ”
And they cut us off again, saying, “Well actually the climate’s always changing, I don’t see why that’s a problem.”
Now the conversation’s changed. Because the GOP dictated the terms. They met us on the checkered board, and they made the rules. We showed up expecting chess, but they plowed forward like a rhinoceros playing checkers.
And every time, we go along with it. Even though we know that they know exactly what they’re doing — because there’s a paper trail to prove it. So we show them the paper trail…but they just keep playing the game, until they can declare a victory.
As a political party seeking to obtain and keep power, this strategy makes sense. It makes less sense for the party’s base to go along with it — unless, that is, they think it will get them a slice of the power pie, too.
Today, there are more people are talking about and engaged with the climate change issue than ever before.
But the GOP continues to deny the existence of the problem right in front of us—even though they’re the ones who also came up with the phrase that we’re still using to describe it. This bad faith engagement is the same way that it’s been for decades. So why do we keep letting them get away with it?