Thursday, May 7, 2009

whats in a name?

According to a pew research poll, in the united states, climate change was ranked as the lowest out of 20 concerns that voters have. This has startled environmentalists. they think it might be because global warming has become such a politicized issue. I think it has more to do with the right wing skeptics being effective propagandists.

You have a scientific issue, and you have a huge huge majority of climate scientists agreeing that the earth is warming, and they agree that humans are contributing to the causes, and there will be changes in the world, many of which will be bad. Yet, somehow, the right wing crazies have been able to convince a ton of people that all the scientists are wrong and that climate change is both, a liberal myth that doesn’t exist and at the time same, if it does exist it is perfectly natural and wont affect anything. They have turned climate change into an interest group! It’s insane, yet they did it.

When corporations want to be more environmentally friendly, they don’t radically change their operations, they just change the names of what they do. It’s called greenwashing. In December 2007, it was found that more than 99% of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed were guilty of greenwashing. Starbucks doesn’t have employees, they have partners. But it isn’t only limited to environmental issues. The swine flu is not longer called the swine flu because the pork industry got offended. Greenwashing is important. In surveys done in the 1990s, about 80% of the population of germany, spain and france said they would be willing to switch products if there was a green alternative to what they normally buy.

So now, the tree huggers are attempting to change the way people in the united states view climate change by changing the names of certain things.

Does it matter? I mean, what’s in a name? a rose, by any other name, would still smell as sweet, right? Wrong. The terms we use to label things are very important and influential. In 2002 economists were surprised to see that a tax return had a smaller effect on the economy than expected. One reason they found was that the return was termed a tax “rebate”. If the term used would have been “bonus” people would have been more willing to spend the money and the impact of the tax return would have been greater.

What’s more important than what we call something is repetition. the right wing crazies claiming that evolution is not a good theory or that climate change isn’t real use repetition of a few effective phrases. Creationists emphasize that evolution is ‘just a theory’. They call climate change a claim or use the term climate change debate, as if it is not agreed upon by the scientific community.

In the late 1960s Robert Zajonc showed that just exposing someone to something makes them feel more positive towards that thing. The more someone hears that climate change is a myth, the more familiar that claim becomes. People feel positively towards familiar things, so people who keep hearing that climate change is a myth, will have positive feelings about the claim and are likely to believe it.

However, this only works to a certain extent. Once something is repeated too often, it becomes annoying and negative feelings start to form. Over exposure or too much advertising of something have a negative impact.

So while names and terms used are definitely important, I think the environmental movement may want to pay more attention to repetition. both, countering repetition by the right wing, but also repeating their own claims too often. If we hear that climate change is important too often, we will start having negative feelings towards climate change activists or scientists. Same goes for all types of propaganda.

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