Orwellian climate double-speak dominating discussion

Newspeak and thoughtcrime have taken over the way we discuss climate change. tim rich and lesley katon

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act - George Orwell

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the term “Newspeak” conveys changes not only to the language but to the nature of thought itself, where “… the purpose of Newspeak was … to make all other modes of thought impossible … a heretical thought … should be literally unthinkable”.

Thought control is irreconcilable with the scientific method. Since the 17th century, this method has hinged on the identification of empirical natural and human realities, using systematic observation, measurement, experiment, formulation and testing of hypotheses in an endeavour to construct an accurate representation of the world.

Inherently, the scientific method – which along with humanism forms the basis for the enlightenment, the age of reason – poses a challenge to attempts at thought control.

In an Orwellian world, science itself would be deemed to constitute a “thoughtcrime”.

Currently much of the world is either denying, or not acting on, the ultimate warning science has issued to humanity. To spell out the warning: any major interference with the atmosphere-ocean-land carbon cycle threatens to erode the very life support systems of the planet.

Before the Neolithic and the development of Great River Valley civilisations some 10,000 years ago, erratic climate severely hindered cultivation of crops. This meant our ancestors had to rely on hunting and gathering. Since 1750, humans have released some 560 billion tons of carbon (GtC) at the unprecedented rate of 2ppm/year. More than 40% of this accumulates in the atmosphere, which signals the termination of stable climate. We have seen this manifested in a spate of extreme weather events.

CO2’s atmospheric residence times is 1000 to 10,000 years: current emissions are condemning future generations to impossible climate conditions.

The powers that be, bent on business as usual, have developed an Orwellian double-speak that attempts to circumvent the scientific message. Thus, while paying lip service to climate change they in fact allow and promote carbon emissions from coal, coal seam gas, oil shale and tar sands.

This has been highlighted by Christine Milne’s recent statements. Speaking at the National Press Club this week, Senator Milne ended her party’s agreement with the Labor Party, at least in part because of their double-speak on climate change.

She pointed to the ALP’s cognitive dissonance by highlighting that:

refusing to acknowledge the link between the intensity of .. extreme weather events and climate change; and the link between subsidising the mining and export of these fossil fuels and a four degree global temperature trajectory is studied ignorance.

Labor cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that they take the climate science seriously and at the same time subsidise massive mining and export of fossil fuels to the tune of $10 billion knowing that they are condemning our children and their grandchildren to a world of conflict, scarcity and climate disaster.

These developments echo an article I wrote in September 2011, detailing political representatives using “Newspeak” to ignore the shift in state of the terrestrial atmosphere and its threat to future generations and to nature.

Recent policies and statements continue to ignore the reality indicated by climate science. For example:

  • The carbon price, aiming at a 5% reduction in carbon emissions, has become a major political issue, but the infrastructure is built for annual export of over 1 billion tons of coal in the next few decades. In 2010, Australia became the world’s fourth-largest coal producer, after China, the United States, and India, exporting roughly 70% of coal production.

  • The notion of “sustainable growth”, implying open-ended growth on a finite planet with a thin vulnerable atmosphere, has acquired almost religious overtones among economists and politicians, who rarely consider social and economic realities in a world that is 4°C warmer. To date no government appears to have the courage to call for a reversal of this trend.

  • Rarely do political projections take global heating into account. For example the White Paper “The Asian Century” includes very few references to climate and how it will affect our interactions with Asia; nor what we will do about it. Nor does the Gonski report, concerned with the future of children, contain too many references to what children will face under a different climate.

  • Between 1988 and 2011 the world spent between $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion annually on the military (see Figure 1), and $1562 billion in 2012, mostly on remote conflicts. Apart from the prodigious CO2 emission by military hardware, such astronomical amounts of money are required for the defence of humans and species under a 4°C rise.


Attempts at either denying the science or belittling the consequences of carbon emissions are common. Some call for politically-based inquiries into climate science – unprecedented since Galileo.

Only rarely are the precautionary and risk management principles mentioned. Thankfully, there are those who see through the Newspeak. Ian Dunlop, former international oil, gas and coal industry executive states in his submission to a Senate Committee on extreme weather:

Scenarios abound, setting out the implications of differing assumptions for the future of our children and grandchildren. All of which would be laudable were it not for the fact that the critical scenario, of accelerating climate change and resource scarcity, is deliberately ignored – apparently too scary for “political realism” to contemplate. Which is a nonsense, for the whole idea of scenarios is to prepare for the real, and increasingly likely, risks and opportunities which we face.

Commentators and politicians are now discussing the politics of Christine Milne’s split from Labor. Isn’t it time they focussed on the more important issues she spoke of? Climate change is real, it is a serious threat, and it is time we talked honestly about what it will take to guard against it.

The criminal dimension of the current campaign to negate climate science and defame climate scientists will only be fully comprehended by our children and grandchildren, when it may be too late.