Climate Cliche Watch, Chapter 1

It’s about time someone—why not Power Line?—developed a Climate Change Cliché Counter: a checklist and score sheet for the number of mindless clichés that appear in articles or statements about climate change. The idea occurred to me when I noted “A Clear and Present Danger to Planet Earth: Climate Change” in the pages of the National Interest, a normally sober-minded foreign policy journal nowadays published by the Nixon Center. It was co-founded by Irving Kristol back in the 1980s but is now edited by someone (Jacob Heilbrunn) who wrote a whole book a few years ago devoted chiefly to attacking Irving Kristol. (Another cautionary tale of how institutions go wrong over time.)

Anyway, this short thumb-sucker of an article (just under 650 words long) offers neither new facts nor any fresh suggestions for how to deal with climate change. It’s just a regurgitation of the usual clichés attached to a panicky conclusion that we have to hand over massive new power to governments to control people and resources.

Our Climate Cliché Counter will need an extensive period of Beta testing, and refinements of the weights assigned to various clichés (mentions of 97 percent! will get extra credit always) so as to yield a score and ranking, which will be used to award the coveted Power Line Green Weenie. So here’s our first shakedown:

  • Extreme weather—check: “While the deadly 2003 heat wave may have been the most severe in the last 500 years, the world can expect similar ones more frequently.”
  • Hottest year on record—check: “With 2014 weighing in as the hottest year ever on record. . .”
  • Wars! Pandemics! Dogs and cats living together!—check: “Global instability will be the new norm, as our warming planet will worsen already highly impoverished and hungry populations, exacerbate food and water shortages, generate violent disputes over resources, make fertile the planet for pandemics and usher in a new era of climate conflict and resource wars.”
  • Dought/water shortages—check: “As the planet warms, this rate of water depletion will increase. . .”
  • Wartime mobilization required—check: “This is why Western allies must lead like never before, rallying the same kinds of war-ready resources—financial, physical and human—that nations fast-track during wartime, except this time it’s for a global fight, a global war against our warming climate.”
  • Running out of time!—check: “Time is of the essence . . . There is no more clear and present danger capable of destabilizing the world around us. The time to act is now.”

If we go by a ten-point scale, this article gets six out of ten; a respectable showing from a pair of authors (Des Brown and Michael Shank) I’ve never heard of before. With practice (they forgot to include 97 percent!) I’m sure they can get their score up to 8 or 9 (though we may move to a 100-point scale to allow for more fine grading), and bag their first Green Weenie.

But then we need to figure out a way to allow for bonus points for truly original failed analogies, like this one from the article:

If the West ever faced an armed insurgent group capable of killing tens of thousands of its citizens in a single summer, it would rally quickly and arm the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in its defense. And yet, climate change, which is also human-made and armed with a different but equally deadly weapon gets a response that pales in comparison.

Yeah, we’ve really rallied Europe and other allies to fight vigorously against terrorism, haven’t we. Je suis Al Gore!

Your suggestions for score-able Climate Clichés welcome in the comment thread below. We’ll formalize this over time, and start scoring a lot more articles.