Those of you who have read these essays over the years are acquainted with my conviction that the words we choose to speak and write can have a power, a reach far greater than is ever our intention. When we call someone a “stupid ass” our purpose is to denigrate the person and too often we ignore (or perhaps don’t even realize) that in process we are demeaning an innocent animal. As it beats down a slur is like a hammer, pounding away at natural dignity.
In a recent issue of The Guardian Weekly, the columnnist George Monbiot addresses this inherent power in the words that are part of contemporary usage as it refers to the natural world. For him, the term ‘climate change’ suggests merely ‘natural variations’ when, instead, the expression so used should make clear the catastrophic disruptions that are actually taking place around the earth. The deadly hurricanes, floods and soaring temperatures which dominate global weather patterns today are signs of “climate breakdown”, not simply change. There is an urgent need to employ terms that reflect reality. What is going on is not just a blip in time; policies must be based on the recognition of these permanent alterations in climate patterns.
Here at the DSC we are trying to meet the challenges of these global changes in the work that we do. The needs of future generations are as important as those of the present. For years, now, we have used the term ‘environment’ to refer to the natural world around us: the animals, the plants, the landscape. But if we follow George Monbiot’s observations then the time has come for us to reconsider the use of this all-encompassing, neutral term. Its banality belies the throbbing, vibrant, life-filled natural world around us. We are part of a living planet not an ‘environment’. Our efforts to teach respect for everything around us are thwarted when we lump the myriad, vibrant elements into a scientific, neutral catchall.
Finally, let’s consider the word, ‘extinction’, one we hear or read almost daily. When we stop to think about it, it is clear that this bland, scientific term in no way suggests the role that humans play in the exterminations that are happening around the globe, most in the name of commerce. As Mr. Monbiot points out, “It’s like calling murder, “expiration”. His suggested replacement is the term ‘ecocide’, a word that points to the largely human responsibility for this global slaughter.
It is well understood that when we name something we take on a part of it. We form a relationship that implies our responsibility in one way or another. Our natural world, our living planet is precious; we need to think in realistic terms about how we can help it to survive. It is time for some new names.
Sandra Pady, Founder