Nov 01 2012

How to Use the Language of “Systemic Causation” To Talk About Climate Change

Two days after Superstorm Sandy devastated swathes of the American North East, GOP Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney finally clarified his position on the federal government’s primary disaster relief agency, FEMA. Having initially supported sending federal dollars back to states at FEMA’s expense during the primary election, Romney said on Wednesday: “I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission…” Critics are once more characterizing the Governor’s ever-changing positions as “flip-flopping” in order to curry favor with voters.

Romney is also coming under fire for a campaign event the day after the storm, which was re-cast as a hurricane relief event. Rather than cancel his Ohio campaign rally, Romney went ahead and changed just a few things – the name of the event, and a requirement for supporters to bring canned goods and other products for storm victims. Democrats and progressive activists are calling out the Romney campaign for apparently buying $5000 worth of products at a Walmart the night before the event and allowing rally attendees to pretend to donate them.

Meanwhile, Superstorm Sandy has forced the issue of climate change to enter the national discourse. Before Sandy, there was almost no mention of it from either major party presidential candidate. In an MTV interview on October 26th, Obama said, “scientists …say we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and it’s heating the planet, and it’s going to have a severe effect.” In response to a question about climate change by sciencedebate.org in September, Romney did say the “world is getting warmer, [and] that human activity contributes to that warming.” But he added “there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk.”

His assessment about scientific consensus on climate change is questionable. However, scientists don’t often help the cause against climate change, going out of their way to say that no single event can be directly linked to climate change. However, cognitive linguist George Lakoff says “Climate change systemically caused Hurricane Sandy.”

GUEST: George Lakoff, a Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, he’s the author of a number of books including Don’t Think of an Elephant!, Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea, and The Political Mind. He also writes for the Huffington Post

Click here to read George Lakoff’s article.

Scientific American Senior Editor Mark Fischetti blogged recently: “If you’ve followed the U.S. news and weather in the past 24 hours you have no doubt run across a journalist or blogger explaining why it’s difficult to say that climate change could be causing big storms like Sandy. Well, no doubt here: it is.”

Click here to read Fischetti’s blog post about Hurricane Sandy.

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