coastal resilience

From Jon Lighter to ADS-L on the 13th, a link to a piece on Dan Casey’s blog from the 12th, “The Virginia General Assembly borrows a page from George Orwell”, alluding to Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984:

In devising a bill for a $50,000 study of rising sea levels along the Virginia’s coast, [Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly] deliberately rewrote it to avoid terms that are apparently too politically charged — such as “sea level rise” or “climate change.”

Casey gives a link to a Scott Harper story (“Lawmakers avoid buzzwords on climate change bills”) in The Virginian-Pilot on the 10th, which gives a longer version of the tale.

Harper wrote:

State lawmakers ran into a problem this year when recommending a study on rising sea levels and their potential impacts on coastal Virginia.

It was not a scientific problem or a financial one. It was linguistic.

They discovered that they could not use the phrases “sea level rise” or “climate change” in requesting the study, in part because of objections from Republican colleagues and also for fear of stirring up conservative activists, some of whom believe such terms are liberal code words.

On its website, for example, the Virginia tea party described the proposed “sea level rise” study this way: “More wasted tax dollars for more ridiculous studies designed to separate us from our money and control all land and water use.”

The group urged its members to contact elected officials right away to defeat the measure: “They will pass this without blinking if we don’t yell loudly.”

So lawmakers did away with all mention of sea level rise, substituting a more politically neutral phrase: “recurrent flooding.”

… At each stage of the studies, the state has altered its verbiage, said Laura McKay, state director of coastal zone management programs.

At first, McKay said, the studies were about “climate change.” Then they were changed to “sea level rise.” Now they are about “coastal resilience.” And while the studies themselves are slightly different, McKay said, political sensitivities played a role.

“It’s kind of silly,” she said. “But the reality is, some of the phrases just really send people screaming. We want to use language that doesn’t alienate people.”

The story begins with global warming, which many people objected to, asserting that the earth is not in fact warming. That was succeeded by climate change, but many denied that the climate is changing. Those who tried to focus on a more specific threat (of special interest to people in coastal communities) by moving to sea level rise or rising sea levels had their proposals rejected as too negative, a mask for an attack on private property rights, and a use of “liberal code words”.

The bill as passed used recurrent flooding, but as Lighter noted on ADS-L, one of the Virginia lawmakers in question (all Republicans) rejected this expression on CNN as too negative.

Which brings us to the apparently positively framed expression coastal resilience, referring to policies designed to improve the resilience of coastal land. There is, in fact, a  Coastal Resilience organization, which explains itself as follows:

Mounting evidence suggests that rising sea levels, coupled with related increases in storm surges, will increasingly put coastal populations at risk from inundation, storm damage, and saltwater intrusion.

… Coastal Resilience provides a framework that supports decisions to reduce the ecological and socio-economic risks of coastal hazards.

You can see that coastal resilience is probably not going to satisfy the Republican critics; note the reference to “rising sea levels” in the quote above. The critics are inclined to deny that there is a problem at all, so governments shouldn’t be taking any action.

That’s very much not a linguistic issue.

One Response to “coastal resilience”

  1. Greg Lee Says:

    I suppose it’s just that I didn’t know about all the silliness that used to go on when I was younger, but sometimes the world really does seem a little crazier than it used to be (with Republicans leading the way).

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