In New Scientist, 11 March 2017
The New Scientist reports a finding of rare aquatic life discovered in Hungary, in a crater formed by a bomb from the second world war. In this reporting we can find discourse that reinforces human supremacy and does not contribute towards creating ecologically driven stories that promote the construction of a respectful relationship between humans and the environment. For example, the lead starts with this clause:
“Some bombs can help create life.”
The noun phrase Some bombs, qualified by the quantifier some, alludes to the notion or presupposes that not only are not all bombs ‘bad’, some are even beneficial to life and can ‘help create life’.
We can also find distancing devices that obscure human responsibility in environmental degradation, making a cohesive link with domains of conservation and sustainability:
“this discovery backs the case for the inclusion of human-made habitats into conservation initiatives.”
The aftermath of WWII is represented not as destruction but as a premeditated project of environmental conservation. Inclusion used here evokes equality as it is taken from the domain of education and disability.
“…warships or submarines scattered in the ocean that turned into coral reefs giving refuge to many species…”
According to the Parliamentary Assembly “Shipwrecks, ocean acidification and the dumping of waste into oceans are among the biggest sources of marine pollution. Some 75% of sunken wrecks date back to the Second World War; their metal structures are ageing and their metal plates are deteriorating, thus threatening to release their contents into the ocean due to the effects of corrosion.” Not to mention the destruction caused by marine missiles, the ships themselves as they hurtle through underwater habitats, the production of bombs and their degradation, and the materials needed to build the ships.
The lexical choices underplay responsibility: scattered minimizes the destruction followed by the decomposition the ships. Additionally, the adjectival gerund giving refuge actively constructs warships as beneficial. The embedded subordinate clause that turned into marginalizes nature and the ocean’s ability to reconstruct and, to some degree at least, to maintain life. On a more grave level, however, it could be argued that this creates the illusion that the consequence of sunken ships is positive, augments and supports life, when in fact the opposite is true.
“Naturally occurring inland saline ponds, called soda pans, are unique to this region of Europe. They form part of wider wetlands that (1)harbour a high number of rare and endemic species — (2)but they have been disappearing“.
I pointed out in a previous post that animals and beings are reported on only when they exhibit a feature of rarity, size or when they do something ‘human like’ which makes them worthy of saving. The rarity of a species is again evoked in conjunction with reportage and provides the ‘so what’. Moving on to clause (2), the responsibility for species extinction is masked this time with a lexical choice and grammatical construction. Grammatically placing the species in agent position constructs the animals as responsible and completely circumvents the real issue at hand. Lexically, the word disappearing is a euphemism for humans killing animals and using the environment as a resource for various human activity.
Publications such as New Scientists are salient with examples of this destructive discourse. What is more, these publications are an educational resource that many students are exposed to and encouraged to use, rendering it vital for ecolinguists to raise awareness and continue looking for positive discourses that can help create new stories and new ways of relating to the environment and nonhuman animals.