The meaning of environmental words matters in the age of 'fake news'

phys.org | 1/11/2019 | Staff
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This week, U.S. President Donald Trump gave a live address on prime-time television where he repeatedly used the words "violent," "illegal aliens" and "crisis" to arouse public fear. While Trump's speech was based largely on fallacies, his fear-mongering shapes the national tone and can generate real-world impacts.

Words matter because they wield power. Words shape our thinking about the world and, in turn, the actions we take. The meaning of words has never been more relevant than now —in the era of "fake news" —when so-called alternative facts abound.

Words - Cases - Language - Agendas - Silence

Environmental words can also be misinterpreted or misused. In the most sinister cases, language can be put to work to promote particular agendas and silence others.

Remember "beautiful clean coal?" The Trump administration used the term as the backbone for the continued development of the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, it systematically removed the words "climate change" from federal websites, a measure aimed at undermining climate action.

Power - Buzzwords - Policy - Direction - Funding

Power can be expressed through environmental buzzwords. They are used to influence policy direction, funding and produce norms that become entrenched in their meaning around the world. Motivated by this idea, our recent research explores the meaning of three environmental buzzwords —resilience, sustainability and transformation. Meaning influences the way we understand environmental problems and shapes the solutions we prioritize —or don't.

Let's begin with "resilience." Over the past decade, resilience has increasingly become a rallying cry in the face of climatic change. Resilience has many meanings, from the time it takes to bounce back from a disturbance to more complex interpretations that consider the capacity to persist, adapt or transform in the face of change.

Evidence - Shows - Individuals - Share - Characteristics

Evidence shows that individuals, even those who share demographic characteristics or professions, interpret resilience in very different ways. These differences matter and can have implications on real-world actions.

When considering policy and planning related...
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