RHETORICAL AXES TO GRIND
October 17, 2018
By “axes” I mean axis in the plural.
Major public controversies are framed by ideological axes, always more than one. Take the controversy over climate change. So far the public debate has been polarized. Knowingly or not, people position themselves at one or the other end of rhetorical axes, perhaps the axis of cost, or of verification, or of responsibility. The rhetorical trick is to slip in words that connect to the underground axis, like an artesian well.
Take the ideological axis of change-over-time. At one pole people present climate change as slow and steady; at the other pole people present it as sudden and irregular. Last June, for instance, Secretary of the Interior Alan Zinke dismissed the significance of recent increase in the melt rate of Montana glaciers. He said that thawing of the glaciers had started “right after the end of the Ice Age,” and added, tellingly, “It’s been a consistent melt.” The next month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued their impact statement concerning the Administration’s decision to freeze fuel-efficiency regulations for cars and pick-ups in 2021. The report exercises every rhetorical ploy to downplay “abrupt climate change” (see Chapters 5 and 8). It concudes that average Earth termperatures may rise 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, an increase, however, so natural, so inevitable, that any fuel-efficiency regulations would only “marginally” have any impact on it (Chapter 9, Section 3).
The words consistent and marginal connote small, regular steps—tapping into the current Administration’s ideology that since global warming is not caused by humans but by slow and unstoppable natural processes, humans are free to do anything they want. Neither word comes within a semantic mile of the predicted effects of a seven-degree rise in average planetary temperature: catastrophic coastal flooding, abrupt extinction of thousands of plant and animal species, non-marginal numbers of human deaths due to weather of unprecedented violence.
If you want to glimpse the other pole of the change-over-time axis, look at “A Recap of Colorado’s Water Year 2018,” recently put online by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. Here is just one of the weather records broken in Colorado so far during 2018.
The full illustration on p. 8 provides some more metereological records broken in Colorado this year—a pittance of the vast scientific evidence world wide that current climate change is the opposite of consistent and marginal.