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by Tom Harris, Executive Director, ICSC, ©2016

(May 28, 2016) — In Oceania, the dystopian society of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a new language was created by the government to control the thinking patterns of the populace.  Officially labeled ‘Newspeak’, it was the first language that, when fully adopted, was meant to limit the range of human thought. Concepts such as freedom, skepticism, and debate would be virtually unthinkable since no words existed to describe them, aside from the generic term ‘thoughtcrime.’

Perhaps most insidious was ‘duckspeak,’ a form of speech consisting entirely of words and phrases sanctioned by the party, language that conveyed politically correct messaging only. Someone who had mastered duckspeak could fire off ideologically pure assertions like bullets from a machine gun without thinking at all. Their words merely emanated from the larynx like the quacking of a duck.

Being called a ‘duckspeaker’ was considered a sincere compliment since it indicated that you were well-versed in the official language and views of the state.

More than ever before, we are now in an era of climate change duckspeak. Rather than being merely ridiculous or social satire, the apparent underlying purpose of climate duckspeak is ominous: to convince opinion leaders and the public to think about climate change only as the government wants. To consider alternative points of view is ‘climate change denial,’ today’s version of thoughtcrime, punishable by excommunication from responsible citizenry. If AGs United for Clean Power, a coalition of sixteen Democratic state Attorneys General (AG), has their way, speaking out on the other side of the climate debate could soon result in civil or criminal charges.

President Barack Obama sets the stage for climate change duckspeakers, often reassuring us that “the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.”

But, as Carleton University Earth Sciences Professor Tim Patterson points out, “Climate is and always has been variable. The only constant about climate is change; it changes continually.” So Obama’s claim, and that of other opinion leaders who say the same, appears to be a self-evident, but trivial, truth like ‘sunrise is real’.

But it is much more than that. Intentionally or otherwise, the President is using a strategy right out of Nineteen Eighty-Four. His statements imply that experts have concluded that unusual climatic events are happening, and that government must save us.

Obama strengthens this perception with dramatic assertions such as that in the “Cutting Carbon Pollution in America” section of the White House web site: “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Referring to greenhouse gases (GHG) as “carbon pollution,” as the White House does twelve times on their climate change Web page, is pure duckspeak. This conjures up subconscious images of dark and dangerous emissions of soot, which really is carbon.

What Obama and others are actually referring to is carbon dioxide (CO2). But were they to call it that, most people would be unconcerned, remembering from grade school that the trace gas is essential for plant photosynthesis. So climate campaigners mislabel it ‘carbon’ to frighten the public and to discourage further thinking, closely following ‘Big Brother’s’ strategy in Orwell’s classic.

Similarly, referring to low CO2 emitting energy sources as clean or green is a mistake since the gas is in no way unclean. But the label promotes an image of environmental wholesomeness, hiding the true ineffective and damaging nature of many alternative energy sources.

Finally, the “97% of experts agree” phrase is, using Oceania’s vernacular, ‘doubleplusgood’ duckspeak, designed to suppress debate and boost the party line. After all, who would dare contest experts about such a complicated issue?

But ‘appeal to authority,’ and ‘appeal to consensus’ are logical fallacies that prove nothing about nature. And, even if such surveys were taken seriously, one would have to ask: Do these experts study the causes of climate change? What did they agree to?

In fact, none of the surveys that are used to back up the consensus argument are convincing. They either asked the wrong questions, asked the wrong people, or polled mostly those who would obviously agree with the government’s position.

Independent reports such as those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change show that the science is highly immature with wide-ranging opinions about the future of climate change.

Although first published 67 years ago, Nineteen Eighty-Four is now more relevant than ever. University of Florida linguist M. J. Hardman summed up the important role language plays in societal control when she wrote in her paper Language and War (2002), “language is inseparable from humanity and follows us in all our works. Language is the instrument with which we form thought and feeling, mood, aspiration, will and act[ion], the instrument by whose means we influence and are influenced.”

It is not surprising, then, that language tricks like Orwell’s duckspeak are being used to justify the unjustifiable in the war of words over global warming.


Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (www.ClimateScienceInternational.org).

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  1. Tom might be right. Climate change is difficult to understand. But,I think 500 million cars start their engines everyday. And I know that if I start just one in my garage and stay with it for 10 minutes I would soon be a dead duckspeaker. ‘What we don’t know won’t hurt us` is a poor way to approach any matter. Just saying…

  2. I’m a denier and proud of it. I don’t deny that the planet is warming. I don’t deny the greenhouse effect. I don’t deny that humans have played some part in warming. I do however deny that warming will be catastrophic, because this claim, unlike the other three I named, has no foundation in fact.

    The sad truth is that the catastrophists have won the war for the hearts and minds of the people. It’s no good pointing out that global warming features near the bottom of the list of people’s concerns. If you ask just about anyone if global warming is a problem, they will answer, Oh yeah.

    Now that the victors have occupied the battleground, they are trying to suppress us. This is a hopeless task, as Hitler found in occupied Europe and Bush and Obama found in Iraq and Afghanistan. But climate skeptics are totally disorganized. We have no Maquis or (shudder) Al Qaeda to fight back.

    So it’s up to the lone voices like you, Tom, to rally support. To fight duckspeak we have to create our own powerful publicity campaign hinged around such simple war-cries as “No Warming for Eighteen Years.” You write well and clearly and I’m hoping you will be one of the leaders of the Resistance.

  3. I agree totally with Tom’s perceptive analysis and with Bob’s comments as I have experienced precisely the same reactions to my attempts to debate the issue. Having been trained properly in science and, up until this anthropogenic CO2 Global warming hypothesis took central stage, I have naively believed in fair, open and honest scientific methodology. These fundamental processes have been actively distorted and destroyed by the very scientists that should have known better. The point here, is that this is not science as we have grown up to believe in, but is a political program using and abusing science. In my book, any scientist altering data to the extent that is demonstrably happening now, in climate manipulation, would be brought to task instead of being accepted and, praised by the media and being rewarded by government grants. School children are being taught only one side of this distorted issue and any person, however well qualified, is not allowed to be heard. Daring to question the hypothesis, even when real data shows that it is failing, can destroy a scientist’s reputation and employment. Supporters, among the general public have become members of a new religious-type group, with “priests” drawn from the political elite group of climate scientists.

  4. Well written, Tom. Like you, I have frequently attempted to engage in a genuine dialogue online with those who believe in the theory that humans are causing catastrophic global warming. With a few (welcome) exceptions, I have found this almost impossible. Discussion of the basic science and data issues gets nowhere; the believers immediately cocoon into the “you’re not a climate scientist” mode, insisting that no other science or social science discipline can offer any insight into any issue associated with global climate and emissions reduction. If one attempts to switch the discussion to IPCC modelling and the frequent disparity between what the IPCC has predicted and what has actually occurred, one gets the same response. If one tries to set aside the science and modelling issues for the sake of the argument and communicate about the costs of mitigation or the small likelihood that mitigation efforts, regardless how expensive and intrusive, will reduce global emissions (given that all the emission growth is occurring in the less developed countries), one receives a lecture on how up-to-now unproven or uneconomic technologies will somehow miraculously appear at low cost and achieve dissemination rates never before experienced in human history. Any attempt to quibble with such judgments results in serious and rather nasty attacks on one’s character, integrity, independence and intelligence. Your reference to George Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian culture is quite a propos in this regard.