If you’re like me and are already:
- tired of reading articles like this about what’s going to be hot in 2011 (here’s hoping “the planet” doesn’t make the list)
- busy breaking those New Year’s resolutions you made
I hope we can all resolve (and actually do it) to make one thing hot in 2011 – calling that icky stuff pouring out of our economy “pollution” instead of “emissions”.
Like “greenhouse gas pollution” instead of “greenhouse gas emissions”, “carbon pollution” instead of “carbon emissions”, etc.
Without making this a big post about messaging and why it matters, I think it’s pretty easy to get that “emissions” sounds neutral or at worst just a little bad, like politely talking about someone’s fart, and “pollution”, well, tells it like it is.
Unfortunately, as the charts below show (make them yourself at Google Fight. Other variations, such as “GHG pollution”, look similarly lopsided.), most people haven’t gotten the message. IGHIH isn’t even doing as well as it could (see for yourself).
Not that we’re alone: Grist Magazine – here, here; Environmental Protection Agency* – here & here; White House – here & here. “Pollution” loses in every one. And if you don’t trust Google Fight’s count, just use those website’s own search engines and page through the results — you’ll get a similar imbalance. If people who care about stopping climate change can’t even call it pollution, why would anyone else, and why would we be surprised if people aren’t that worried?
Of course, these are just all results, not arranged by date. We can’t tell if people are using “pollution” more now than a few years ago. There a few encouraging signs this might be true. Harry Reid finally got it (but way too late) in last year’s climate legislation push. The EPA talked about pollution over and over in its release about new GHG regulations starting this year (but chose to talk about “emitters” instead of “polluters”). Wikipedia authors…not so much.
It’s not about objectivity
Some people might argue that emissions is a neutral term, and that it’s more appropriate for the government, scientists, and the media to talk about impartial emissions instead of “suggestive” term like pollution. But try searching for “water pollution” or “air pollution” from Reuters, the Associated Press, Google Scholar, or the EPA’s website, and you’ll see no one has any trouble talking about lots of other harmful kinds of “emissions” as pollution. And, fact, climate change is killing people. Sounds like pollution to me. Some of these places have long ago started talking about climate-related emissions as pollution, but the skew is still there.
So let’s resolve, in 2011 (and forever):
I will use “pollution” when I talk/write/think about climate change, not “emissions”.
Danger – words without actions
* Disclaimer – I work for the federal government right now. This is a personal post, not the gov’s.