Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Climate Change & Rhetoric

In January, Max Boykoff wrote an opinion piece in the Washington post about an Interesting shift in Obama's 'climate change' rhetoric. Obama stopped almost completely using the term "climate change"; instead, he talks about "energy" and "clean energy".  According to another study, this seems to reflect a worldwide tendency. Boykoff complains that "clean energy" does not cover impacts such as changing land use, deforestation, and other forms of climate pollution than carbon.  "Clean energy" also avoids the problem of curbing consumption. Correctly, he reminds us that
Calling climate change by another name creates limits of its own. The way we talk about the problem affects how we deal with it. And though some new wording may deflect political heat, it can’t alter the fact that, “climate change” or not, the climate is changing.
On the other hand, does it matter that Max Boykoff talks of "climate change" in general when he means "anthropogenic" or "human-made" climate change?


Hector M. said...

And also:
1. Does it matter that "climate change" is used instead of the previously more frequent "global warming"?
2. Does it matter that "climate disruption" and "weird climate" is used instead of "climate change" or "global warming"?
3. What are the reasons behind these shifts in preferred terminology?

Werner Krauss said...

Harry Dale Huffman, I deleted your comment. We know from your many previous comments that you don't believe in global warming. No need to repeat that.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Thanks for posting this Werner, I think it raises an important issue. I am not sure I agree with Max. The key phrase is, clean energy "deflects political heat". Obama realizes that CC has been seized upon by party politics and therefore it is a contested issue. Some believe you can win this battle through science (mainly people who don't understand politics ;-).

I rather agree with the Breakthrough Institute who try to find ways out of this political deadlock by advancing bi-partisan solutions.

So what can be gained by insisting to talk about CC? Because it is the Mother of all issues (M Hulme)? Certainly not.

Werner Krauss said...


I agree, climate change doesn't have to be considered as a holy cow or the "mother of all issues" in order to implement climate effective policies.
Insofar, I agree with the Breakthrough Institute. But on the other hand, they suggest specific American solutions. This is true for the bi-partisan solution - for example, in Germany the opinion about climate change is not as split and politicized as it is in the US. Furthermore, their market & growth orientation and the respective image of people has speicific American elements, too. Their ideas wouldn't resonate that much in Europe, I guess. Being not hindered to get rich by whatever policies and to keep up world leadership are typical American values; sometimes, Nordhaus & Schelenberger sound pretty exotic to my old European ears...besides their admittedly highly pragmatic approach to climate change, which is really refreshing!

@ReinerGrundmann said...

you are right. But we must bear in mind that the US situation is very different form Germany where the political elites share the same outlook on climate policy. This was only briefly the case in the US when Senator McCain was running for president. Before and after the Republicans tried to own the issue.

Mathis Hampel said...

I believe that this also reflects a difference in thinking about science between the 'old' Left and the 'new' Left (a la Hartwell). The old Left deliberately uses the rhetoric of climate change since it believes in the unifying, essentialist spirit of science speaking truth against capitalist power. The new Left much more endorses constructivism, the sciences and (US) pragmatism, hence a different rhetoric. Also, as has been pointed out, this is very US American, or anglo-saxon, if you like.

Werner Krauss said...

@Mathis #6

Interesting, nicely put!

Three questions:
1) how "left" is climate change at all? Different answers for US and Europe, for sure.
2) what about the "French left"? gouvernmentalité, postmodernity? Where does this fit in?
3) And does it in Germany make sense at all to locate climate change in a leftist field? Here it is more the nature / engineering dichotomy which counts...

All speculative, of course, but interesting playground: to find out how climate rhetoric resonate differently in different cultural contexts.

Mathis Hampel said...

your questions are good but oh so lengthy.

1. It seems that the 'new-old scientific Left' question makes sense in US and European Ivory Towers only.

2. ? but I d guess that despite Latour et al people still believe in Science (maybe less so in scientists, 'normal' or 'post-normal' science) and that some weather is linked to climate change. Also the French need categories.

3. Deutschland ist Deutschland ist Deutschland

So if I was in Obama's place I d probably stick with climate change. That's why I m not in the White House.

Werner Krauss said...


add to 2) concerning France, I had the Foucauldian tradition of thinking in terms of power / knowledge in mind - here: (climate) science as a new form of governance and control.

For Latour, no doubt that for him we are connected to / associated with climate - by far the most interesting perspective, I guess.

Mathis Hampel said...


my collegue Martin Mahony explores this territory at:


he also offers some interesting observations of 'himalaya-gate' and the new glaciology in India:


Werner Krauss said...

Mathis, thanks for the Martin Mahony link - great!