ALTHOUGH language has an overall impression in representing the broad communication framework in the climate change discourse, it is carefully chosen words which drive the whole communication process.
GUEST COLUMN:PETER MAKWANYA
Words can be used to establish walls or bridges depending on the climate situation to be communicated. The climate change discourse thrives on crafting new terms in order to communicate meaning and inspire action. While some words are purely and purposefully environmental in scope and content, others are both environmental and commercial, designed to enhance opportunities that come with the climate change problem.
Words in climate change discourse are carefully chosen and designed to have an impact, change of mindset and communicate behaviour change in the overall climate change and environmental conservation discourse. The chosen terms are designed to shake the mind, creating mental impressions and thoughts thereby transforming the overall thought process.
Of course, language use has to target the mind because human behaviour or attitudes start from there. Human activities accelerating climate change cannot be corrected without dealing with the mind.
Just like how linguists and communication experts select words, climate scientists use words to represent climate processes. Words such as fossilisation, deforestation, global warming, pollution, land degradation, emissions, among others derive meaning from science.
It requires the power of communication to unearth the meanings of those words to avoid communication roadblocks.
Words such as carbon war, climate crises, catastrophes, disasters, forest plunder among others have not done much to stop carbon emissions, deforestations and land degradations. In this regard, the overall climate discourse will continue to be seen as battles even in the way the global negotiations are conducted, they are actually a war of words, mistrusts and vote-buying.
Even words like artisanal miners used to describe the chaotic and unregulated small-scale mining have not stopped anarchy and human rights abuses in gold mining because they are simply words and nothing else.
Climate change is a moral or an ethical issue gone wrong, leading to climate injustices and emission gaps and inequalities.
Therefore, the role of these words is to highlight people’s shortcomings towards the environment for image building, responsibility and accountability purposes.
All climate change communication processes in the form of print, electronic, broadcasting, online, visual and storytelling media are designed to mould responsible citizens through the power of language.
The ability to manage the impacts of climate change depends on the communication interventions used. Taming wildlife plunder and poaching also depends on the nature of words used to communicate conservation issues.
For some time, words such as ivory war, eliminating poaching syndicates, among others have not been able to bring desired results, leading to wildlife conservation being at crossroads.
If authorities do not leave room for loss of time when fighting the battle of our lives, then poachers would also not have any time to lose in their quest for ivory.
This would also extend to illegal miners and those extracting and processing fossil fuels, they would not waste time in their quest for minerals and exploration for fossil fuels would still go on as well. Language which brings concerned parties together and establishes win-win situations is necessary.
Words that are used should indeed inspire climate action strategies in positive ways because if these are described as wars and battlegrounds, they take time to be won and there would be no winner or loser.
Climate responses designed to contribute to sustainable climate behaviours should benefit both sides, thus climate offenders and environmental stewards would then see each other as stakeholders and meet in between. In this regard, the power of words to shape human behaviour should not be underestimated neither should the power of words to accelerate unsustainable environmental conduct.
Even if climate intervention words such as ecological crises, climate emergency or breakdown are used, those who are involved and are on the wrong side of things will not see things in the same way because they are in business, first and foremost.
They are in business to make money and realise profit not to appease anyone, therefore, they may not be in a hurry to change. Language of compromise and co-existence instead of that of blame and confrontation is the way to go.
Words designed to transform human relations and aid consensus need to be used hence emergence ecological linguistics (ecolinguistics) is the way to go. Although ecolinguistics question unsustainable human behaviour towards the environment, it is designed to bring human beings closer to the environment by advocating for relations with their environment.
Of course, language that is not working and leading to ecological destruction would be exposed and replaced.
Otherwise many words which continue to be used to frame climate change as a problem with solutions yet to be found would make climate change appear as a predicament without solutions, but responses. Visuals are powerful tools and are instrumental in appealing to the mindset thereby enhancing action and behaviour changes.
All in all, everything boils down to language choice and changing the mindset because everything starts with the mind. If any form of communication is not properly and firmly registered in the mind, then all interventions may not succeed.
While climate scientists may continue coming up with new discourses and vocabularies, not all of them have been successful because of a failure to promote human relations including relations with their environment.