A 15-year old Swedish girl bitch slapped the world’s representatives at the recent climate conference in Poland. She stood before them and called them frauds and fakers, while they sat in limp silence. She said they’d had their chances to do something effective about the climate crisis, and they had failed. It was time for them to get out of the way and leave the solution to the next generation, whose future was at stake.
The delegates applauded lamely and resumed their assignment of crafting an intricate rule book for implementing the earlier Paris climate accords, which were admittedly voluntary, unenforceable and insufficient to the magnitude of the crisis. The American contingent in Poland even staged an event glorifying the burning of more coal—but “clean” coal with some carbon capture to make such operations benign.
This scene repeats a familiar pattern now reduced to a ritual. Professed experts and interests gather to assess what has been done. They concede their efforts have been earnest but inadequate. Some among them, plus intruders, pitch a fit about how little has been accomplished. All pledge to do better—and then go home and continue doing much the same as before.
These rituals apparently have the endurance to continue while the seas rise into the conference halls, the forests burn down around them and the people are rioting in the surrounding streets.
The world began formally addressing the issue this way with the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988—IPCC. At that time global warming was becoming a common name for the looming disaster. But this wasn’t scientifically sound because the evidence showed an increase in hot and cold spikes, rains and droughts, storms and calms around a gradually rising average global temperature in pace with atmospheric carbon dioxide increases from human activities. And global warming sounded too hellishly fire and brimstone apocalyptic.
Climate change seemed more accurate and less alarmist. It allowed the proper authorities to proceed routinely with their studies and recommendations, resulting thirty years later in the bitch slapping in Poland.
Climate change virus
Meanwhile the term climate change has become a virus. It is built into the name of the efforts to salvage the earth. The Poland gathering was COP 24 (the 24thConference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). And climate change appears throughout the world’s faltering attempts to grapple with the puzzle: governmental debates, academic studies, journalistic commentary, social media, coffeehouse chatter—everywhere.
This phrase comforts the skeptics and deniers. It assigns no cause or culprit and offers no cure. It suggests the climate has always been changing and might revert to earlier conditions or swirl into tipping point turbulence. In either case, human deeds are not the main driver of events. Change just happens and the prudent course is to adapt to whatever occurs.
Most scientists, and other sentient beings, immersed in the issue know this vision isn’t true. But the doubters keep sucking on it like a soothing sweet. For their sake (and the rest of ours also) this mental lollypop needs to be yanked out of their mouth and replaced with a brain cleansing purgative.
A word or phrase that accurately indicates what’s happening and suggests causes and cures. Something like: climacide.
Rectification of names
Adopting this replacement for climate change would honor the 2,500-year-old advice of Confucius, which he termed the rectification of names. He insisted that things must be given their correct names, because without that they cannot be understood, and appropriate action cannot occur. In the late 20th century accidental Confucian Utah Phillips applied this insight to conditions he observed around him. He said (reputedly—attribution is fuzzy but it surely resembles something that would appear in his songs or sayings): “The world isn’t dying. It’s being killed by people who have names and addresses.”
Climacide compacts all that into one word manufactured to fit current reality. It indicates that climate changeisn’t simply happening. It is being done by somebody and some institutions with malicious or reckless intent, and they remain at large, and they must be identified, apprehended, and stopped. Because they are guilty of ongoing death-dealing for the world’s climate: climacide.
That may seem extreme, but so are the circumstances. Dignified, studious approaches have illuminated the situation but they are at risk of outliving their usefulness if the temptation for evermore study paralyzes action.
Merely substituting climacide for climate change wherever this lame term appears would help deliver a mobilizing jolt.
Imagine correcting the name of the body trying to cat-herd the world’s scientists, politicians, businesses, and peoples in a fruitful direction. It’s no longer the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s the IPC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climacide. That instantly makes it less a forum for conferences and reports and more a case for Interpol and the International Criminal Court.
Or consider this recent op-ed leakage from Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer—but wherever he wrote climate change insert climacide:
For too long, Congress has failed to act in a meaningful way to combat the threat posed by climacide. Powerful special interests have a stranglehold on many of my Republican colleagues; some GOP legislators even refuse to acknowledge that climacide is happening. So despite the immense size of the problem, despite wildfires that sweep through the West and hurricanes that grow more powerful over the years, real action on climacide has been stymied by the denialism of the president and too many Republicans in Congress.
This simple change alters Schumer, makes him sound like he’s been possessed by the spirit of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Do the same whenever you encounter climate change in writing, the media, conversation, politicians’ blather—everywhere. Mentally insert climacide instead. This will be a tedious, irksome daily chore. Your brain will bristle, you will itch and twitch, fidget and fume, become so irritated and alarmed that you might actually get up and do something.
Whatever that might be, it’s probably better than what most of us are now doing, which is standing on the beach watching the eruption of a distant volcanic island, while its tsunami rushes toward us.