Metaphors and rhetorical points for global warming

From Joe Romm’s open thread about what metaphors to use when describing climate change: (the first one is entirely mine).

If your child were sick, and 97% of the world’s doctors said the child would die unless he take a certain medicine, should you give him this medicine or do nothing until the autopsy confirms the original diagnosis?


Q: How many climate sceptics does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None. Eventually the lightbulbs will right themselves.


Patient: Doctor! I’ve been smoking for decades, and now I have a tumor in my lung! Save me!

Doctor: You’re fine. The idea that the human body does not change over the course of the lifespan is ridiculous.


Catastrophic Climate Change is an enormous dragon who sleeps in a secluded cave.
Fossil fuels are the magical mushrooms in that same cave.

When people first discovered the mushrooms, it was easy to gather them without waking the dragon. But now danger increases, as mushrooms are plucked closer and closer to the dragon.

If the dragon wakes up, she will not return to her cave until nobody remembers her cave or a time when she did not stalk the land.


If my child wanders on to a road I can’t be certain that they will be hit by a car, but I am certain that I need to get them off the road as quickly as I can.


For those who argue that climate always changes, this is like someone diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease who argues that they can ignore it because they’ve had illnesses before and always got better.


Q. How many climate denialists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. None, because they don’t believe it even needs changing, plus there’s stuff on the internet that proves the room actually got lighter when the light bulb blew, and besides, it’s all a secret plot by light bulb makers (a.k.a. the Illuminati) to establish a leftist World Government and rob us all of our Personal Beliefs & Freedoms. Why are you asking that question, anyway?. . .. Who wants to know? . . .. Who are you working for? . . . .







5 responses to “Metaphors and rhetorical points for global warming”

  1. graphicconception Avatar

    Q. Am I right when I say: 2 + 2 = 4 ?

    A. I will check. It looks OK but if SourceWatch says that you have links with BigOil I will have to say: “No”.

  2. graphicconception Avatar

    Q. I smoke but I do not want lung cancer. What should I do?

    A. Invoke the “precautionary principle” – have your lungs removed.

  3. Robert Nagle Avatar

    All metaphors are imprecise, but yours have problems on their own.

    The smoking-lung cancer assumes that the doctor has not made any recommendations. Here is Joe Romm’s way of putting the same issue:

    Suppose you smoked and went to a doctor about your cough. The doctor said you were at risk for lung cancer and should quit. You see another doctor who says the same thing. You see another doctor who says the same thing. And so on. Finally, you start asking people who are not doctors who tell you, “Coughing is normal,” and “You’ve coughed many times in the past without becoming seriously ill; why should now be any different? and the “doctor just wants you to buy more drugs.” Should you listen to the opinion of doctors or friends who are dentists or petroleum engineers or bankers?

  4. graphicconception Avatar

    Q. I smoke but I do not want lung cancer. What should I do? I thought about your “precautionary principle” idea but, even though the link between smoking and cancer is incontravertible, only 10% of smokers get lung cancer later on. So we would be killing ten times as many people as was strictly necessary. This sounds like an unintended consequence.

    A. Another possible solution is to use nicotine trading. This is a system where every smoker in the world is compelled, by law, to buy nicotine credits. Basically, the smokers give money to non-smokers so that they can continue to smoke. I will administer the nicotine credits fund so that all the money will go through my bank account. I will have to take out my expenses, salary etc and keep any interest but most of the money will find its way to some non-smokers, honestly.

  5. Robert Nagle Avatar

    You are quite right. It is not a foregone conclusion that you will get lung cancer; the individual should have the freedom to decide what risks to assume.

    But there are social issues involved –let’s take smoking. Second-hand smoke dangers (and apparently even “third-hand smoke” — google it). So it’s not exactly correct to say that the individual can make a choice in a vacuum without society having a stake. Also, the state assumes various health care bills which indigent patients cannot/will not pay. So it definitely is costing me tax dollars.

    Similarly, the state invests a considerable amount of money in infrastructure and other systems which involve fossil fuels. Oil leases, subsidies, etc. The state can legitimately say it has an interest in whether this problem is solved.

    The nicotine credit idea sounds interesting (I don’t know if you are being facetious or not). But a lot of smokers cannot or will not pay for such a license, and I’m not sure it would be fair for someone to benefit from someone’s bad choices. Also, climate change has the potential to affects lots of individuals on a global basis

    The examples/metaphors I listed were examples about how to characterize the doubt/denial about the scientific question of global warming, not proposed solutions (which definitely have winners and losers and need to go through the political process).

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