Yesterday on Twitter, Julia Carrie Wong, The Guardian’s senior technology editor announced that they would be making some changes to their style guide. “Climate change” will become “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown.” “Global warming” will become “global heating.” “Climate skeptic” will become “climate science denier.”
In the mid 2000’s, according to Elizabeth Kolbert’s extensive New Yorker series on climate change, the idea was that, before the climate got warmer, it would get colder. The concept was that the Gulf Stream would break down, forcing cold air to sweep across North America and the U.K. Part of the fluctuation in the language surrounding climate change is that the scientific consensus on exactly how it all could play out keeps changing. This is when global warming became climate change, because the fear was that if the earth didn’t actually warm, people would stop believing in the catastrophe.
The idea behind The Guardian’s new style guide is that circumstances are so dire that along with vital action to disrupt anthropocentric climate activity we must disrupt the discourse in our brains. It is an effort to add a sense of urgency to our thought process about this issue, where what is needed is not for us to tear our neurons apart, but to think rationally and calmly about an effective approach.
It is another step forward in the breathless social panic that is sweeping western outlets as they fight for control of the narrative. More important than accuracy, rationalism, and logic, is the word war that dominates the conversation around important issues. Before a reader can get any true understanding of what’s going on, the nuances, the varying perspectives, they are first told the proper language to internalize.
If The Guardian intends to change the language they are using to reference and explain the phenomenon previously known as global warming, more mandated doublespeak terminology is likely to flow through the publication pipeline. The Guardian’s amendments to its style guide is part of a larger trend to massage the language we use towards the aims of activists and ideologues.
The way to get everyone on the same page is to control their thoughts, and the way to control their thoughts is to dictate their language. By manipulating the words people use, even within their own consciousness, their minds are locked in to a particular way of thinking. This is why there has been so much hay made of how racial and ethnic groups both refer to themselves and are referred to in culture and discourse. The words we use have direct corollaries to the way we think.
An outlet can have a perspective, a journalistic bent, and many do. But The Guardian is claiming that that their language of fear mongering is objective. It put us in mind of other attempts to enforce doublespeak in the media. In 2015, a major push was made by a Canadian activist group called Femifesto to compel the media to use very specific, feminism-approved language in reporting on sexual assault. They told the media: “DON’T Overuse words like ‘alleged’ or ‘claimed.’ … DON’T Default to the descriptor ‘victim’ unless this is the wording an interviewee prefers. Many people feel ‘victim’ has negative connotations. DON’T Make the survivor the subject of the sentence and assign the verb to them.”
We can see now, in 2019, just how insidious and effective this kind of linguistic authoritarianism can be. The concept of innocent-until-proven-guilty is frowned upon. Almost all mainstream media outlets insist upon calling alleged victims “survivors” without evidence that they survived anything at all.
Today we are constantly facing demands that we speak and write in a politically correct way. They demand that we all use preferred pronouns so that theys, thems, xims, and xirs don’t feel left out. They insist that the terminology surrounding womanhood and motherhood be changed: woman is wrong; menstruator or pregnant person is correct; breastfeeding is wrong; chestfeeding is correct. The language surrounding the concept of racial and ethnic discrimination has been broadened. Teens in MAGA hats and evolutionary biologists are now racists and sexists respectively. Even with regard to suicide, there is an argument being made that people should stop saying “committed suicide,” because it legitimizes the idea that it is a crime.
Major media outlets like The Guardian are in lockstep with governments and social media companies in attempts to monitor your speech and censor what you say. The well-intentioned but Orwellian Christchurch Call is just the latest manifestation of this. It’s frightening. In a healthy, free society, the media should question abuses of power, not contribute to them.
British singer Morrissey recently implored us in the song “Spent the Day in Bed” to “stop watching the news because the news contrives to frighten you, to make you feel small and alone, to make you feel like your mind isn’t your own.” When you consider all of these recent attempts to infuse the language we use with hysteria, Morrissey is singing some sound advice.