Choose Your Climate Label Carefully…
The new House Speaker, Mike Johnson, has been described in headlines by the Guardian, US Energy News, the Hill, and many other media outlets as a “Climate Skeptic.”
Most of the articles identify his connection with the fossil fuel industry, and his 100% rating with them. The NYTs discusses his lack of “belief” in climate change. Most outline his extreme views on everything from cutting social security to opposing LGBTQ+ rights to trying to overthrow the election. There are lots of reasons he’s just bad for our country. But this post is not about why he is bad for our country or for the climate. That’s obvious.
This is about the almost instant attachment of the word “skeptic” to his climate position.
If we look at the word skeptic, it can be interpreted as someone whose mind might be changed if the right evidence is presented. The word skeptic creates a “reasonableness” and “rationality” frame. Yet there is no way Mike Johnson is going to change his mind. Indeed, it sets the framing trap and encourages trying to argue with him to persuade him to change his mind. It validates this approach because a skeptic must be rational. Therefore the term skeptic is good. And consequently, therefore Johnson is good, or at least, not bad. i.e. He’s not against taking climate action, he’s just skeptical.
Our climate movement has been falling for this trap for 30 years by trying to convince climate skeptics that climate change is real. It doesn’t work. We feed what we fight and when we do, we make the frame that it’s not real, stronger.
We were winning when we used the term global warming, so right wing media strategists in 2001 (Dr. Frank Luntz) got Republicans to start calling it climate change. The term was less threatening and opened a whole new set of arguments. (For example, the climate has always been changing.) The media adopted the term. As a result, we’ve wasted valuable decades that threaten our future. Yet our media has applied the term climate skeptic within a day of Johnson’s rise to the speakership.
There are likely two reasons for this. First, it could be sloppy reporting. More likely, it’s a concerted effort by right-wing media specialists to, again, plant a frame. They realize that climate deniers are denying the truth. Out of touch with reality. So Maga Republicans are now trying to soften their image by identifying as climate skeptics.
This might seem like a small issue of semantics. But the words we choose have consequences. Many times, fossil fuel strategists develop words that reinforce neural pathways in our brains. These are called frames. The use of frames can provide a short hand metaphor that resonates with a latent value and can present the truth in a one-sided way, or present a false choice.
So what should we call Mike Johnson instead?
At minimum, he should be called a climate denier. While this has some of the same qualities as skeptic, the term denier might be easier for the media to pick up. It’s in the vernacular. A denier is someone who is out of touch with reality. Can’t be reasoned with. It also applies to his 2020 election denial.
The climate science is overwhelming. There is no doubt. We know that fossil fuels are causing global warming. We are experiencing the hottest year in recorded history, carbon pollution in our atmosphere is higher than its been in over 100,00 years, climate damage has exceeded a trillion dollars around the world, our forests and cities are burning, and our farms are in drought. We need a better term than skeptic. I am open to suggestions, but have a recommendation.
Perhaps Mike Johnson is a climate annihilist. Someone who believes in the complete destruction or obliteration of any preservation of a livable environment and a safe future for our families and children. But, this is not it. The word annililist is not accessible. It doesn’t resonate. As I’ve done, it needs to be explained. So it doesn’t work.
He is a fossil fuel puppet. He is in the dark pocket of fossil fuels and he is gleefully lining his pockets with corrupt fossil fuel money.
His extremist beliefs will destroy the air you breathe and a safe future for you, your kids and your family. His ideas on climate are wrong, bankrupt and dangerous.
But most of all, my recommendation is to call him an extreme global warming denialist. He knows the truth, but denies the truth and reality for his own benefit, and the contributions he receives from fossil fuel corporations. He is deceiving us. Let’s stick with what works. He is a global warming denialist or climate denier if you prefer.
How should we proceed?
- Stop using skeptic and use global warming denier.
- Repeat denier. He is out of touch with reality and what the American people want. His ideas are bankrupt, dangerous and just plain wrong. Say it like you are angry.
- Contact your media when you see the term skeptic and challenge their use of it.
- Pivot to our values, vision and the solutions we advocate for all. We believe in a safe healthy future for all of us. We must make the transition from dirty toxic fossil fuels to clean renewable energy as fast as possible.
Thanks for all you do.
L. Hobart Stocking
Image Credit: Ike Hayman