Natural concept change can’t account for the dramatic saltations we’re seeing in what scientists say the Earth’s climate means, according to an alarming new analysis of the climate corpus.
Climate linguists say the motion on the dial far exceeds background rates of semantic drift, and it shows no sign of damping. They’re increasingly worried that—with recent disturbances in weather, consensus, acidification, pollution, skeptic, global, conspiracist, conspiratorial, trick, hide, what the peer-reviewed literature is, the scientific method, knowledge, evidence and other previously-stable concepts—verbal weirding could represent the new normal.
But Stefan Lewandowsky, Bristol University’s Professor of Cognitive Science and a regular Nuremberg contributor, doesn’t need to see the data. He’s already convinced that things are getting more frequent—because it’s happening to him. Anecdotally.
“Sometimes,” he confides, “I can’t even predict what a given term is going to mean by the time I finish writing a paper about it! People [who read my climate psychology research] are scared and confused.”
It’s even prompted Lewandowsky to rethink the legacy of David Viner, a figure once dubbed the Chemical Ali of Climate Change for his predictions that children “won’t know what snow is.”
“We all enjoy a good laugh at his expense, but I suspect we might find the invoice coming back to us,” argues Lewandowsky. “Do your kids know the IPCC’s current definition of snow? When’s the last time you asked them?”
For his part, he admits, “I’ve never tested them. Part of me is afraid to check.
“It’s… my brain,” he concludes. “My brain is afraid to check.”
Most scholars are now unanimous: language change is real, it’s happening, our activity is to blame, and only human action can stop it.
Suppose we’re right, but refuse to act, allowing our activity to continue. It’s not the end of the world… is it?
The systems of meaning production fail; the coin of language no longer buys the cloth of thought; in language labs around the globe, dysphemism treadmills go Sisyphean and a million mice, dead of exhaustion, lie strewn about the place. Soon the Satanic semantic mills become perpetual confusion machines and have no more use for mice… or men.
And this is your idea of not the end of the world?!
Remember, the thinkers who’ve studied this crap for decades agree: it was only thanks to a relatively gentle period of linguistic expansion, starting around 1,000 BC, that the great coastal civilizations with which we’re familiar today survived their infancy; the rest is history, yadda yadda yadda, and so forth.
But push the system too fast and the premises we take for granted flip their booleans.
When that happens, say the scientists (and I tend to agree), we may as well burn the journals and recycle the encyclopaediae. At that point the only account of the natural world with any explanatory or predictive power will be the Book of Revelations.
It’s a view increasingly shared by everyone.
“Last time the English lexicon was in such rapid flux, starting around 1066, it seems to have caused the Norman invasion and conquest,” says Naomi Oreskes, who teaches logic.
“And still the silly apathists shrilly shriek that ‘language has always changed!’ Which is true, of course,” concedes the half-geologist, half-historian, part-time science fiction trilogist and Professor of Majority Opinion in Earth Sciences at Harvard University.
“What their lies don’t tell you, though, is that it’s the rate of change that matters. If you don’t believe me, ask your local English person what happened a thousand years ago. Ask them why a green and pleasant land ran red with the flower of the Saxon nobility.”
I have to ask: is it too soon to say the inactivists have blood on their hands?
“Too soon? Are you joking? Sometimes it’s hard to tell with you,” Oreskes rebukes me.
“But no, it’s not too soon, it’s too late. The time for saying stuff is over. Now we actually have to do something.”
Unfortunately, that’s the last thing anyone wants to do.