I Spy…Conscience Planétaire

In New Scientist, 18 February 2017

Humans evading responsibility yet again in this week’s issue of the New Scientist. Climate change is framed as the cause for animal suffering and extinction, while human destructive activity and crimes against the environment and sentient beings is backgrounded:

Climate change is already harming around 700 species of mammals and birds due to issues such as habitat loss.”


  1. The cause of climate change is certain: humans.

Our climate is the engine for life support systems that sustain and nurture us all. Climate and weather drive the ebb and flow of life, making rivers run, crops grow, and forests flourish. But now this vital foundation of life has been pushed off balance.

Every land, all life on Earth is affected. Even remote polar ecosystems are at risk.

Climate change already unravels Earth’s complex web of life. It’s the gravest threat to life we know.

A dirty energy system, fueled by coal, oil, gas and nuclear power, has failed us. It pollutes our air, land and water. Drilling, fracking and mining spoil priceless landscapes, rip apart communities and destroys nature.

The transitive clause above positions climate change as responsible for causing ‘harm’ (see below for discussion) to animals.



2. ‘Habitat loss’

The responsibility for climate change is human    Humans are responsible for climate change. Humans are responsible for destroying animal housing and living spaces. Language reflects societal ideologies and the way we relate to nature. It is important to place human activity as the actor and agent leading the global threat to all living forms on earth.

The nominalisations ‘habitat loss’ and ‘climate change’ render the issues opaque, de-emphasizing the urgency of the global crisis. The overarching destruction and robbing animals of their lives is denigrated in this clause with the lexical choice ‘harm’. When trees and bushes are cut and burnt, birds and mammals who depend on these for their shelter and food-die.

The small item in New Scientist concludes with the following clause:

‘Almost half of land mammals and nearly a quarter of birds listed as threatened may be negatively affected by climate’.

  1. Deontic modality

The verbal choice of may, a deontic, weak modal is used to further distance human responsibility. It is important to emphasize here both the local, micro level as well as political, macro responsibility for destruction. The dichotomy so apparent between the first clause above and this one could be argued to promote the uncertainty some have of the reality of climate change (and support Trump’s position, for example). This dangerous stance advances remoteness of climate change effects (arguably because most of the New Scientists readers do not come into contact with climate change consequences on a daily bases, or at all in their lifetime).

2. Negatively affected

Using vague language such as this contributes to the marginalization of animals.

We must dedicate every waking moment to protect our right for a healthy planet, defending our fellow being for the same right. 

si tu sèmes les graines de justice tu récolteras des
fruits de paix
résister produire
un autre monde est possible
c’est le printemps du fond des terres
une conscience planétaire

-Planet’s Spring, I Muvrini



Greenpeace, (2017) Climate change. Available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/ (Accessed: 20 February 2017).
The author is willing to remove any content that may infringe on copyrights

3 thoughts on “I Spy…Conscience Planétaire

  1. I quite appreciate the linking of deontic modality in the politically charged language that would ever and always provide escape from culpability. A polite society of “nice people” has long conditioned itself to the “necessity” of unending denial.
    “Using vague language such as this contributes to the marginalization of animals.” Thanks for bering everything socio and eco linguistic 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Bill. The worst part is that publication such as New Scientists are upheld as serious scientific journalism – students, for example are encouraged to read it and reference from it, not question it.

      Liked by 1 person

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