Using language to make the world of fossil fuels strange and ugly | 7/16/2019 | Staff
Matty123 (Posted by) Level 3
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They weren't getting it.

I had a room full of bright first-year university students in front of me, but confusion reigned as I tried to describe how embedded fossil fuels are in every aspect of society.

Car - Gasoline - Battery - Power - Question

"OK, let's try this. What do you call a car that uses both gasoline and battery power?" Relieved to be asked a question they could confidently answer, a few students piped up: "Hybrid car!"

"Right. Now, what do you call a car that you plug in?" The number of students joining the chorus grew: "Electric car!"

Car - Gasoline - Response - Bit - Time

"Right again. So, what do you call a car that runs only on gasoline?" The response was a bit delayed this time, but some wry smiles of understanding accompanied the answer: "A car."

Despite dire warnings of climate catastrophe and research showing that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground, the fossil fuel system remains dominant, normal and even invisible.

Cars - Electricity - Home - Heating - Transportation

We have cars and electricity and home heating and transportation systems and agricultural and industrial production. None of them normally have adjectives that denote their reliance on fossil fuels. That reliance is natural and therefore invisible and unspoken. Normal.

As a society, we have not made the status quo strange and the negative aspects of fossil fuel dominance visible in our language and labels: dirty, gas-powered cars; polluting, coal-fired electricity; unsustainable, oil-dependent agriculture. And we need to.

Book - Fossil - Fuel - Era - Thomas

In their book Ending the Fossil Fuel Era, Thomas Princen, Jack Manno and Pamela Martin explore U.S. philosopher Richard Rorty's provocative idea that major social change is in part dependent on "speaking differently" to the problem of climate change. Making the fossil fuel world strange and negative in our thoughts, speech and labels is part of pursuing the transformation that we need to stave off the worst implications of climate change.

Feminist and critical race scholars taught us this...
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